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.

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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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

On a Roll: Cedar Fair Wins A Major Victory For The Industry In The Missouri Supreme Court

Cedar Fair has done it again.  In 2011, Cedar Fair came out on the losing end of a surprising California Court of Appeals decision, Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P., a case that stunningly held that guests riding a bumper car ride do not assume the risk of injury caused when the cars bump.  In 2013, the California Supreme Court reversed that decision in a decision that represented a major victory for the entire industry.  In November 2013, Cedar Fair again suffered defeat in a case called Chavez v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (“Chavez I”), this time in the Missouri Court of Appeals.  That case broadly expanded the standard of care applied in negligence cases against amusement parks, likening their operation of amusement rides to the operation of airplanes, explosives or firearms.  I strongly criticized the Chavez I decision as not only bad in result, but bad in the flawed reasoning required to reach that result.  Well, the Missouri Supreme Court seems to have agreed (although I won’t go so far as to surmise that any of the justices read this blog necessarily).  In a decision issued on November 12 called Chavez v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (“Chavez II”), the highest court in Missouri not only overruled the Court of Appeals ruling in Chavez I, but also took the remarkable step of undoing more than sixty years of case law defining the negligence standards applied to amusement parks in Missouri.  Whereas, before Chavez II, it could safely be said that some, not all, amusement operators would be held to a heightened degree of “utmost care” in preventing injuries to their guests, after Chavez II, the law in Missouri is the more appropriate “ordinary care” standard in every amusement case.  This is a big win for the industry.  And once again, we have Cedar Fair to thank for it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Six Flags' Loss In A Recent ADA Decision Might Ultimately Be Good For The Amusement Industry As A Whole

Over the last couple of years, I have told you about a very important case in our industry called Castelan v. Universal Studios.  Castelan was the first decision of its kind to shed some light on the standards applicable to amusement rides under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  I won’t re-hash what I said about the Castelan case again (you can click here and here to read my coverage of that case), but suffice it to say that a big takeaway from Castelan was its holding that, in states that required operators to follow ride manufacturer recommendations, the Americans With Disabilities Act allowed amusement ride owners and operators to use a ride manufacturer’s accessibility restrictions as, in effect, a proxy for proof that allowing disabled guests to ride created an “actual risk” of injury to that guest that satisfied the “legitimate safety requirements” exception to the ADA.   (If you didn’t understand that sentence, I highly recommend reading this for some clarification.)  Well, a federal court in Texas has recently weighed in on the issue and has reached a very different result – ruling against Six Flags Over Texas in a nearly identical case to Castelan and, in fact, rejecting much of the Castelan decision in the process.  The decision is certainly a bad result for Six Flags in that case, but is it a bad decision for the industry as a whole?  Many will undoubtedly say it is.  I don’t necessarily agree. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Here & Now (Pt. 3): Isn't Standing In Line An Essential Rule Of The Park .. Even For Autistic Guests?

Click here to read Here & Now (Prologue): The Question of Autism In Amusement Parks Under the ADA
Click here for Here & Now (Pt. 1): Is Immediate Ride Boarding For Autistic Guests Really Necessary? 
Click here for Here & Now (Pt. 2): Is Immediate, On-Demand Ride Access For Autistic Guests Reasonable?

What does this ...
have to do with this?

A recent lawsuit brought against the Walt Disney Company has brought into the public spotlight an issue that the amusement industry has struggled with for years:  what accommodations are legally required for autistic guests and other guests with cognitive disabilities that cannot wait in line.  Last year, Disney’s parks (along with several others, including the Cedar Fair parks) instituted a policy that dramatically changed the procedure for these guests.  Rather than being granted on-demand, immediate boarding privileges upon arrival at a ride (as had been the practice for years), guests at these parks must now check-in, either at the ride or at a guest relations location (depending on the park), and make an appointment to return, at which time the guest and his party will be immediately boarded.  The appointment time corresponds to the length of the line.  So is this procedure acceptable under the Americans With Disabilities Act?  The plaintiffs in the recent Disney lawsuit say it is not – that immediate, on-demand boarding is a required accommodation under the law.  But is it?   

The first two pieces of this series have looked at the questions of whether immediate, on-demand boarding on amusement rides is necessary (giventhat front-of-the-line access does not seem to be requested in any other publicaccommodation) and / or reasonable (given prior case law in the cruise shipcontext finding it is not).  I’m ending this series by considering the third element of an ADA claim of this sort:  Does allowing on-demand, immediate boarding “fundamentally alter the nature of” the amusement park experience?  I believe it does – in dramatic fashion.