Products Liability Law Daily Injured rider can pursue design defect claim against roller coaster makers
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Monday, January 27, 2020

Injured rider can pursue design defect claim against roller coaster makers

By Jeffrey H. Brochin, J.D.

Manufacturers’ defense that the risks present in the amusement ride were both known to the ordinary consumer and inherent in roller coaster riding was rejected, as the court was not furnished with standards or comparisons beyond the allegations in the complaint.

In a products liability suit brought by an individual who allegedly was injured while riding a roller coaster, the federal district court in New Jersey denied in part and granted in part motions to dismiss filed by the manufacturers because the injured rider sufficiently pleaded a design defect claim under the New Jersey Products Liability Act (NJPLA), but not a manufacturing defect claim. The companies’ defense pursuant to the statute of repose also was rejected by the court due to the absence of further facts establishing the triggering date of the statute (Fabricant v. Intamin Amusement Rides Int. Corp. Est., January 21, 2020, Thompson, A.).

Ruptured discs after roller coaster ride. In April 2017, a visitor to the Six Flags Great Adventure Amusement Park in Jackson, New Jersey, decided to ride the Kingda Ka roller coaster ride, but once seated, he found the harness to be too tight, and asked an attendant to assist him with adjusting it. An additional attendant was called over, and the harness was readjusted to a position that seemed to be comfortable. However, once the roller coaster accelerated, the rider’s harness tightened against his shoulders, causing him temporary yet considerable pain. He alleged that as a result of the ride, he ruptured two intervertebral discs in his cervical spine, causing inflammation, compression of his spinal cord, numbness in his hands and feet, back pain, and weakness and spasticity of his lower extremities. He was later diagnosed with progressive cervical myelopathy and underwent surgery to decompress his spinal cord and fuse vertebrae adjacent to his ruptured discs. He filed suit against the manufacturers as well as the amusement park. For the reasons cited below, the manufacturers’ motions to dismiss were granted in part and denied in part.

Statute of repose. The manufacturers argued that the products liability claims against them were time-barred by New Jersey’s ten-year statute of repose, which provides that claims arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property brought against the persons performing such services are barred more than ten years after the services are performed. It applies to actions to recover damages for any deficiency in the design, planning, surveying, supervision, or construction of an improvement to real property or for an injury to the person.

The manufacturers called upon the court to take judicial notice of the fact that the 2005 launch date of the ride was in fact more than ten years prior to the rider’s 2017 injuries. However, the court declined to take such judicial notice, reasoning that because the case was about the individual seats and harnesses on the roller coaster, the dates of any replacements, repairs, or alterations of the roller coaster’s components over time were relevant to the court’s assessment of the bounds of the statute of repose. Accordingly, without a comprehensive picture of the relevant facts—obtainable in discovery—the court declined to take judicial notice of the triggering date of the statute at the present time, and the motion to dismiss based on that statute was denied.

Design defect. To prove a design defect under the NJPLA, the rider needed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the product causing the harm was not reasonably fit, suitable, or safe for its intended purpose because it was designed in a defective manner, that the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer’s control, and that the defect proximately caused injuries to a reasonably foreseeable or intended user.

The manufacturers asserted that they were not liable for the alleged harness defect because under the NJPLA, manufacturers are not liable if the characteristics of the product are known to the ordinary consumer or user, and the harm was caused by an unsafe aspect of the product that is an inherent characteristic of the product and that would be recognized by the ordinary person who uses or consumes the product. However, the court also rejected that defense, noting that the court was not equipped with standards or comparisons beyond what was alleged in the Second Amended Complaint, and was therefore unable to determine whether the risks were the type that were both known to the ordinary consumer and inherent in roller coaster riding. Therefore, dismissal was not warranted on that issue at the current juncture of the case.

Manufacturing defect. Under New Jersey law, a manufacturing defect exists if a product deviated from the design specifications, formulae, or performance standards of the manufacturer or from otherwise identical units manufactured to the same manufacturing specifications. The rider alleged that Kingda Ka incorporated a harness device with the "unrestricted capacity to lock down against the shoulders, chest, and/or cervical spine of individual riders" and that the backs of the seats did not extend high enough to protect individuals of the rider’s height. However, the court found that a manufacturing defect claim that failed to allege how the product deviated from any manufacturing standard or in what respect the product was defective was not sufficient. Thus, the court granted the manufacturers’ motion to dismiss the manufacturing defect claim.

The case is No. 19-12900.

Attorneys: Gary Martin Meyers (Law Offices of G. Martin Meyers, PC) for Christopher Fabricant and Malika Fabricant. Paul K. Leary, Jr. (Cozen O'Connor) for Intaride LLC a/k/a Intamin Ltd. Heather M. Eichenbaum (Spector Gadon & Rosen, PC) for Six Flags Great Adventure, LLC. F. Brenden Coller (Cozen O'Connor) for Intamin Ltd.

Companies: Intaride LLC a/k/a Intamin Ltd.; Six Flags Great Adventure, LLC; Intamin Ltd.; Six Flags Theme Parks Inc.; Ing-Buro Stengel GmbH; Intamin Amusement Rides Int. Corp. Est.

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