About Me

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I am an attorney practicing in Hartford, Connecticut. A particular focus of mine is the legal needs of the amusement and tourism industry. My focus on the amusement industry derives from my pre-law career as an operations manager with Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and Universal Orlando. Having started my career as a ride operator at Cedar Point in 1992, I progressed through the seasonal ranks and ultimately became the Manager of Ride Operations and Park Services at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I also worked in Universal's operations department during the construction and development of Islands of Adventure. Today, I am an active member of the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions and the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. I have been invited to speak at amusement industry meetings and seminars and have worked on a variety of matters relating to this industry.

Legal Disclaimer (because, you know, I'm a lawyer)

This Blog/Web Site is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice (or any legal advice). By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher and / or author nor can such a relationship be created by use of his Blog / Web Site. By using thisBlog / Web Site you understand that any statement on the blog site are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wiggin and Dana LLP. By using this blog site you understand that the Blog/Web Site is not affiliated with or approved by Wiggin and Dana LLP. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state or jurisdiction. This blog is not published for advertising or solicitation purposes. Regardless, the hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Safer Ride? (Pt. 3) - Is State Amusement Regulation The Problem?

            The amusement season is quickly winding down as daily operation (for seasonal parks) comes to a close and schools go back into session.  Like schools, legislatures around the country will also be heading into session shortly and, given the tragic and unfortunate incidents in the amusement industry recently, it is likely that at least some of these – maybe even at the federal level – will consider new regulation of the industry.  As I’ve detailed before in my last two pieces, the siren song of federal regulation is almost impossible to ignore in the wake of an amusement ride-related death or serious injury.  But the only real reason to look seriously at replacing the current system with a new federal oversight program is if the states' regulatory programs are not working.  So, for my final piece in this series I thought it would make sense to look at the evidence, or lack thereof, that state regulation is failing. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Safer Ride? (Pt. 2) - What Would Federal Amusement Ride Regulation Cost & Do Regulators Even Want It?

            The question of federal oversight of amusement ride safety is one that comes up every summer in the wake of an unfortunate, sometimes tragic, incident in the industry.  But while many in politics and the media are quick to speak out in favor of federal ride safety oversight, this rhetoric is typically devoid of any detail.  What would a federal ride safety program look like?  What would it cost?  And does the agency that would be charged with administering it share the view that it would be a good idea?  In my last post, I made my case for why I just do not see the federal government being any better (and perhaps it would be worse) than the states when it comes to ride safety oversight.  But even setting that aside, it is important to think about the details here and consider whether this program might be not enough bang and too much buck. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Safer Ride? (Pt. 1): Is The Federal Government A Better Regulator Than The States?

To state the obvious (and to understate the matter significantly), this has been an extremely bad week in the amusement industry. The week began with news of the death of 10-year old Caleb Schwab at Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas.  Just days later, news broke of an accident at a carnival in Tennessee involving a Ferris wheel and resulting in injury and hospitalization to three guests.  And the week ended with news that a three-year old was thrown from a roller coaster at Idlewild amusement park in Pennsylvania.  As the public has learned more about these incidents, and especially the reportedly gruesome nature of Caleb’s death, the outcry for answers has been immediate and unmistakable.  The media, in particular, has repeatedly focused on the so-called “patchwork” of state regulations in the amusement industry and, more specifically, the fact that there is no federal regulatory body overseeing ride safety in the United States.  

None of these criticisms are particularly new – indeed they arise whenever a tragedy strikes our industry.  But this time, faced with the unbearably tragic death of a young boy at a family-friendly waterpark, these criticisms seem to have gained more traction in the public consciousness.  It is simply impossible to look at a picture of Caleb Schwab and to not feel the greatest empathy for his family and to not want to make changes to ensure that no other family has to ever go through this again.  It is easy to argue, as Jake Tapper recently did on CNN, that the system failed Caleb, and that the answer is federal oversight

But, even after this week, one of the worst I can remember in the nearly 25 years I’ve been involved in the industry, I still maintain that federal ride safety regulation is not the answer.  And I think it’s time, after all these years writing this blog, that I explain exactly why I feel that way.  As I’ve done with other important issues in the industry, I’m going to look at this in three parts:  In this piece, I’m going to look at the question of whether the federal government is somehow inherently “better” than the states at regulating.  The next piece will look at what a potential federal ride safety program might actually look like and, critically, how much it might cost U.S. taxpayers.  The third will look at the question of whether there is any actual evidence that state regulation is not working.  The media has made their case.  It’s time for me to make mine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Interaction Reaction: The Impact of Interactivity On An Amusement Operator's Liability Exposure

rise of interactivity in the attractions industry and something it said got my lawyer-brain thinking.  Here’s what it was:

Interactivity doesn’t stop with great-looking, immersive technology.  There is a still a need for pure physical interaction. 
“Pure physical interaction.”  As a fan of amusements, that phrase puts a grin on my face and starts the adrenaline pumping.  As a former operator, that phrase equals “repeat business” and additional revenue - something that the article emphasized.  But as a lawyer, that phrase made me pause for a minute and think about whether the rising popularity of interactivity could change the liability calculus for owners and operators of these attractions.  I thought that question deserved a closer look.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Disney's Autism Policy Passes ADA Muster - But What Does That Mean For The Rest Of The Industry?

Does the ADA require immediate, on-demand boarding for guests with cognitive disabilities such as autism?  It is among the questions most frequently asked of me and one for which there has been no judicial guidance … until now.  Late last week, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a first-of-its-kind ruling on the issue in a case called A.L. v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.  In the decision, Judge Anne Conway ruled in Disney’s favor essentially finding that immediate, on-demand boarding was not “necessary,” as that term is used in the ADA, and thus that Disney was not obligated to provide it to autistic guests.  While there may be a couple of small areas in the court’s analysis that some could quibble with, on the whole the decision is well-reasoned, reasonable, and practical.  But what does it mean in the broader context?  What affect, if any, will this case have on future cases in the industry?  Those are the questions that I think warrant a little discussion – and thus have drawn me back to blogging after an extended absence (which I hope you can all forgive).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Merlin Entertainment's Bold, And Extremely Smart, Move In The Aftermath Of The Smiler Accident



News in the amusement industry for the last week has been unfortunately dominated by the tragic events that occurred at Alton Towers on the Smiler roller-coaster on June 2.  As the days have progressed, it has become clear that the Smiler accident, in which a loaded train collided with an empty train on the track, was extremely serious, resulting in severe injuries to three guests, one of whom, seventeen year old Leah Washington, had to have her left leg amputated above the knee. 
   
For several days now, I’ve read the media coverage of this event and have purposefully decided not to write about it.  Why?  Because anything I might say about the accident itself would be pure speculation, something I strive to avoid.  But today, something about this case caught my eye that I could not ignore.  Today, according to media reports in the UK, the owner of Alton Towers, Merlin Entertainment, did something that most American operators (and their lawyers) would scarcely consider:  it took full responsibility for the injuries to its guests and promised to compensate each one.  I think, given the circumstances, that this was exactly the right move and one to which other operators should pay close attention.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

IAAPA’s First Virtual Advocacy Day Is Here! And We Need Your Support!



This week, IAAPA’s North American Government Relations Subcomittee will be on Capitol Hill for its annual Advocacy Day (the name is actually something of a misnomer, since it actually takes place over two days).  On Tuesday and Wednesday, March 24-25, twenty-three members of the committee (including me) as well as invited guests from other IAAPA committees and members of the industry, will be meeting with elected officials in the House and Senate, their staffs, the Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and other government officials to communicate the industry’s interests to those that shape federal policy.  In all, we have scheduled thirty-six legislative meetings, including meetings with seventeen members of Congress, in only two days. 

This year, IAAPA’s Government Relations Department, as well as the North American Government Relations Subcommittee, is asking for your help to make Advocacy Day 2015 an even bigger success than it usually is.  In addition to our physical presence on the Hill this week, we are asking you to take part in the first-ever Virtual Advocacy Day!  What’s that, you ask?  Well, while we are meeting face-to-face with members of Congress and other policy-makers in Washington, we want you to take to social media with the hashtag “#IAAPAVAD” to amplify the messages that Advocacy Day attendees are bringing to DC.  Tweet your Senators!  Tweet your Representatives!  Tweet the CPSC, the State Department, the Transportation Department, the FAA!  Show them that you care about the industry and the issues that affect it. 

So, what are the issues that we will be addressing over the next few days and how can you help?  Well, keep reading to find out more about our priority issues and how you can contact your representatives and policy makers.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Do Height Requirements On Rides Violate The ADA?



A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a couple days with a highly talented group of amusement professionals at the iROC Safety School in Las Vegas.  This is the second year that I have been invited to speak at the event, and it is quickly becoming a highlight of the year.  The topic of both this year’s and last year’s presentations was the Americans With Disabilities Act which, as faithful readers of this blog know, is a particular passion of mine.  After a 90 minute seminar on ride access last year, much of the Q&A session revolved around the issue of autism which, coupled with the filing of the lawsuit against Disney, prompted me to take a closer look at the issue in the “Here & Now” series.  This year, I came to iROC ready to go on the issue of autism, but interestingly a new issue reared its head that I hadn’t thought a whole lot about before: The question of height requirements and, specifically, whether enforcing a height requirement against a guest with a disability violates the ADA.  So, as with the autism issue last year, I thought this deserved a little more thought and some attention here. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Six Flags Just Earned A Win In An ADA Case - And No One Seems To Have Noticed




Forest or Trees?
Last week, as I was toiling away on a big case I’m working on, my email inbox blew up with news of an ADA case out of a federal court in New Jersey involving Six Flags Great Adventure.  As many of you know, I usually pay close attention to such things, and the news I was hearing was uniformly bad:  “Six Flags lost another ADA decision,” some told me.  “The judge in New Jersey got it dead wrong, just like the judge in Texas,” said others.  “These judges are starting a war between parks and manufacturers,” someone else suggested.  The newspaper headlines seemed to uniformly focus on the “victory” for the disabled plaintiff.  Unfortunately, it took me a few days to get around to actually reading the decision, and guess what?  Much to my surprise, I disagree with much of the reaction I had encountered.  In fact, while it is not a home run for Six Flags, there is much in the decision that is extremely good for the industry in terms of ADA compliance.  Yes, at the end of the day Six Flags lost this particular ruling, but focusing on that is a mistake as it overlooks two very positive aspects of this ruling for the industry, and the strong chance I believe Six Flags will have to win this case should it go to trial.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

IAAPA Is Over, So What's Next? How Does A Couple Of Days In New Orleans In February Sound?

IAAPA 2014 in Orlando was a huge success!   From talking to my clients and peers that were there, I think all agree that the quality of the educational sessions and networking opportunities was, as usual, consistently fantastic.  But what now?  Well I have a suggestion.  How about a trip to New Orleans in the dead of winter?  Sound good?
 
Recently, the American Conference Institute reached out to me about being a media partner for an upcoming, and first of its kind, conference on Recreation, Leisure, and Amusement Park Compliance and Litigation.  Now, over the years, I've had a few whispers from various people about setting something like this up, but nothing that has either been backed by someone like ACI, who has A LOT of experience with quality business conferences on a variety of topics, or that I thought would be of interest to a broad swath of the industry.  Well, that's all about to change.