The recent tragic death of a 4-year old after riding Walt Disney World’s Mission: Space attraction at Epcot has highlighted the lack of oversight by local, state, or federal agencies for the Florida tourists destination. Now California’s Disneyland theme park, which operates under some of the strictest state oversight in the nation, has just been told by the state Supreme Court that those standards aren’t tough enough.
The judges agreed with the family of a woman who claims to have suffered brain injuries in 2000 while riding the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland. The ruling states that the themepark should be held to the same safety standards as transportation companies (such as trains and light rail). This ‘Common Carrier’ status requires much more bureaucracy and oversight and holds the company to a higher standard of safety such that attractions are "safe and fit for the purposes to which they are put" and that a "a carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage" (civil code section 2100). This decision upholds an earlier appeals court finding.
Disneyland, of course, claims those standards are met and exceeded by their existing policies. But now that is for a court to decide.
It’s my understanding that what really changes with this ruling is that previously Disneyland was only held responsible if they were found negligent. Now, the park is responsible for any injury that occurs on the attraction that was not deliberately caused by the individual. In this case, Disney would be liable if the attraction caused a blood vessel to burst even if that condition was unkown prior to the person getting on the ride. If this holds up then rides like Indiana Jones and high speed roller coasters will have to carry incredibly high insurance or possibly be shut down.
There is a worry that this case could be the beginning of the end for Amusement Park rides. That this sort of liability makes the business of providing thrills untenable. So look for Disney to pressure the state legislature to step in and provide them some relief (probably in exchange for further oversight).