Wild Ride – Paraplegic Injured on Roller Coaster Loses Jury Verdict (CA)

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Rogers v. Magic Mountain, LLC (California)

Plaintiff was involved in an accident in 1996, which caused him to suffer from paraplegia and related medical complications.  In 2010, he rode the X2 “4th Dimension” roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, an amusement park in Valencia, California.  While on the ride, plaintiff suffered a fracture to his right femur.  Plaintiff did not feel the injury as a result of his paraplegia.  A few days later, his right leg was amputated after blood clotting blocked the flow of blood to his leg.  Plaintiff sued the amusement park and the ride manufacturer, alleging premises liability, general negligence and products liability.

The amusement park filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court.  The case continued, and a ten day jury trial ensued.  After trial, the jury issued a special verdict, finding that the amusement park was negligent, but that its negligence was not a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.  As to the ride manufacturer, the jury found that (1) the ride did not have potential risks that were known at the time of their design, manufacture and sale that would support a failure to warn claim, and (2) the design of the ride was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff, but that the risks of the ride did not outweigh the benefits of the design.  Therefore, the jury found that neither defendant had legal responsibility for the harm caused to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff appealed the decision contending that the special verdict was defective and the evidence was insufficient to support the special verdict.  However, the Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.  The Court noted that the plaintiff had not objected to the special verdict or any of its stipulated changes.  Regardless, the Court did not find any inconsistency, ambiguity, or unresolved issue in the special verdict.  Plaintiff complained that the jury had improperly allocated 100% fault to the plaintiff without first finding that the plaintiff was negligent.  However, the Court explained that the specific allocation of fault to the plaintiff was merely an “irregularity,” and not an “inconsistency.”  The jury had already determined that neither defendant’s was responsible (the park’s negligence did not cause the harm and the risk of the manufacturer’s design did not outweigh its benefits).  As a result, the Court noted that “it [did] not matter whether plaintiff was negligent or not — he [could not] recover from defendants.”  According to the Court, “the issues of negligence and causation were properly presented to the jury in the special verdict form.”  The Court was also convinced that “there was ample evidence from which the jury could properly conclude that [manufacturer] was unaware of potential risks at the time the X2 vehicles were designed.”

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