Wrongful Death: Is Six Flags Liable When Someone Falls From A Roller Coaster?
A wrongful death case is going to trial in Tarrant County involving the death of a 52-year-old woman who was riding the infamous Texas Giant at the Six Flags Over Texas theme park on July 19th of last year.
About two months after the incident, the victim’s immediate family filed suit against Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for the victim’s wrongful death. This was the same day Six Flags reopened the Texas Giant after they had performed their own internal investigation and failed to find any mechanical errors on the roller coaster.
Six Flags is denying any liability for the death because the roller coaster and the restraint system were both designed and built by an independent contractor: Germany-based Gerstlauer Amusement Rides.
Six Flags is arguing that they relied on the German company’s expertise to ensure the safety of passengers. Their internal investigation reported that 2.5 million people have taken a ride on the Texas Giant prior to this accident. Out of all 2.5 million, there has never been a similar incident.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has already ruled that the victim’s death was caused by “multiple traumatic injuries due to the fall from the roller coaster.”
Wrongful Death Lawsuits: Is Six Flags Liable?
This is tragic situation for the family of the victim. It’s hard to imagine that Six Flags wouldn’t feel somewhat empathetic towards the family and offer them some sort of compensation. They offered a statement explaining that the incident was a “tragic accident” and has continued to stand by the fact they they are not responsible. The family is asking for $1 million and Six Flags Entertainment Corporation has to continue to watch out for its interest as a business. So what constitutes a wrongful death case? Is Six Flags liable?
Wrongful Death: A Quick Overview
When a person dies or is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another party, the immediate family has the right to sue for damages in a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim requires four elements:
- The death was caused by the defendant either in part or in whole.
- The death occurred as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence.
- The death affected the surviving family or those who qualify to receive compensation through a wrongful death settlement or verdict.
- The death resulted in monetary damages to the person making the claim.
Let’s start deciding who is liable first by proving the 3rd element: is the victims family affected by this loss? Yes, the victim’s immediate family has filed suit against Six Flags for the wrongful death because they are dramatically affected by the victim’s death. She is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. They have a vested interest in her well being and they have suffered a huge loss as a result of this tragic accident.
What Damages Does The Family Qualify For in a Wrongful Death Claim?
This is proving the 4th element. Obviously, the family has suffered the loss, but how does this transfer into compensation (i.e. the $1 million dollars they are asking for)? Damages in a wrongful death case include:
- economic damages
- medical and funeral expenses connected to the death
- loss of the victims expected earnings
- loss of benefits like pension plans, tenure, or medical coverage
- the value of goods and service the family member would have provided
- non-economic damages
- damages for the survivors mental anguish, pain, and suffering
- loss of guidance, care, protection, training, and nurturing from the deceased
- loss of love, companionship, and society
- loss of consortium
- punitive damages (damages for punishment)
- attorneys fees and interests
We can easily see that the family will qualify for economic damages like the funeral expenses and any loss of benefits and income that the victim provided for the household.
Non-economic damages are those unquantifiable damages for the emotional grief followed by the death of a love one. This family will suffer for years to come as a result of this accident. It might affect their public life and motivation. And, they have definitely lost the guidance, care, and companionship she provided. They will definitely qualify for non-economic damages (even though no price can be put on the value of a life).
Punitive damages for gross negligence to punish Six Flags might be asked although it seems Six Flags has taken all the proper precautions that have proved to work for year prior to the accident. And this will make it hard to prove the need for punitive damages (as we will see).
Finally, the family will probably receive compensation to cover their attorney’s fees so that the damages they deserve are not lost by their attorney fees.
Is Six Flags Entertainment Corporation Guilty of Negligence? And Liable For Damages?
Now we come back to the question: Is Six Flags liable? Obviously the accident happened on their premise so they have to be partly liable for the situation, but are they guilty of negligence or careless activity? This is where the circumstance gets ambiguous and we see why this case is going to trial.
What Constitutes Negligence?
Negligence also consists of four elements:
- Duty of Care: For negligence to be proved, the victim (plaintiff) must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Does Six Flags owe a duty of care to the passengers who ride their roller coasters?
- Breach of Duty: Next, the plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant breached this duty of care to the plaintiff. Even though Six Flags had an independant contractor build and provide instruction for operate the Texas Giant, if there is an accident, did they breach their duty of care?
- Factual Causation: After the plaintiff has proved that the defendant breached their duty of care, now it must be proved that this breach did, in fact, cause the injuries or death. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner has already established that the death of the victim resulted from the victims fall.
- Damages: The plaintiff must then determine if the victim suffered damages because of the incident. We’ve already established that the victim’s family is liable for damages if wrongful death can be proved, so now it’s just about determining if Six Flags owed the victim a duty of care and breached that duty of care.
This is where the problem lies for the victim’s family. Six Flags wants to say that they did not breach their duty of care because they just did what they have always done: what they were told by the manufacturer of the roller coaster.
Thus, we can see that this case rests on the pinnacle of this determination: does Six Flags owe the family damages due to a breach of their duty of care to the victim which, therefore, makes them negligent and guilty of the wrongful death claim the victims family made?
Obviously we cannot prove this in a single blog. There is a lot of detailed information and state stipulations that will determine the outcome of this case. Both lawyers on each side will have to make an intensive investigation to prove their vested interest. And we will have to wait until the verdict to truly determine the outcome.