Roller Coaster Rider Falls to Death at Six Flags
A 52-year-old woman fell to her death from a roller coaster at Six Flags in Arlington, Texas, on July 18, and it’s no surprise that legal action looms.
It was the first time the woman, Rosy Esparza (or Rosa Ayala-Goana, as official reports refer to her), had ever been to the amusement park. When she was strapped in to the Texas Giant, she reportedly complained to the operators of the ride that she didn’t think the safety bar had completely engaged.
Moments later, she was pitched from her seat as the roller coaster – at 14 stories, touted as the tallest steel-hybrid coaster in the world – made a sudden move, according to witnesses. The coroner said she died from “multiple traumatic injuries.” Firefighters recovered her body from the tracks.
Investigations began immediately – but since no foul play is suspected, none of them criminal. The German company that makes the roller coaster, Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, is coming to Arlington to inspect the ride, and Six Flags itself is also conducting an internal investigation.
A certified inspector must issue a new safety clearance, according to the state Department of Insurance, before the ride can reopen. That’s the protocol anytime an injury occurs, says one news source. The coaster was up to date on its safety inspections and had not reported any deaths in the last five years.
Esparza’s family has reportedly said they are considering legal action.
Six Flags Under the Microscope
Many parties potentially bear responsibility in a situation like this, says personal injury lawyer Michael Grossman of the Grossman Law Offices in Dallas.
“When dealing with a device as complex as a roller coaster, there are many parties who contribute to the design, maintenance, installation, and inspection of the structure and its various subsystems,” he explains, “and any of those parties could be potentially liable if they carried out their duties in an unreasonable fashion.”
“The elephant in the room in terms of liability is Six Flags themselves,” Grossman says, and unless the company “is covered by a multi-million dollar insurance policy, it’s safe to assume that the insurance policy will not be sufficient and the company’s own assets will come into play.”
Theories of Liability
If that happens, Six Flags faces three possible ways of being held liable:
General negligence. “Such an obvious failure of a vital safety component strongly indicates negligence,” he says. “In terms of the obvious risk of harm, a failed restraint on a roller coaster is tantamount to a surgeon leaving his watch in a patient or a prison forgetting to lock the front door. It’s only the most important thing that they should be expected to get right.”
Premises liability. “Property owners must ensure that visitors to their premises are protected from certain dangers,” Grossman says. The degree of protection depends on the reason the visitor is there.
“If you visit an establishment to their financial benefit, you are an ‘invitee’ and they owe you the highest standard of care,” he adds. “[Esparza] would indeed be classified as an invitee, meaning that Six Flags owed her a duty to proactively seek out and protect her from unreasonable hazards.”
Gross negligence. “If there is any truth to the rumors that the decedent voiced concerns about her restraints and the ride operators turned a blind eye, a jury may find that such conduct constitutes ‘gross negligence’ or ‘negligence that shocks the senses,’” Grossman says.
Not ‘Assumption of Risk’ to Ride
Grossman says that people who criticize Esparza and other thrill seekers who ride roller coasters and “assuming risk” are “overlook[ing] the inescapable fact that the allure of thrill rides is that they afford us an opportunity to flirt with disaster, yet we’re allowed to do so in a controlled setting where the risk is only an illusion.”
“A roller coaster rider should no more expect to fall to their death than a guest at a murder mystery dinner should expect to actually be murdered,” he points out. “The supposed risk is a fantasy that is only made real through a failure on the part of those in control to properly wield control.”
Esparza’s sad case is a reminder that while money can never replace a loved one, legal action brought on their behalf is often the only way corporations can be held accountable when they are proved negligent.
“Barring some fluke or freak accident, the likely scenario is that dollars were stretched and that maintenance, inspection, or replacement of safety equipment was postponed with an eye toward minimizing costs,” Grossman opines. “If that proves to be the case, which experience has shown that defendants often cut corners for precisely those reasons, then we as a society must demand that such behavior is discouraged, and there is no greater way to accomplish that goal than through legal action.”