About Me

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I am a consultant and general counsel to International Ride Training LLC as well as a practicing attorney in Avon, 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 or International Ride Training LLC. By using this blog site you understand that the Blog/Web Site is not affiliated with or approved by Wiggin and Dana LLP or International Ride Training LLC. 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, July 26, 2011

Similar Cases, Dissimilar Outcomes: How Politics Shapes A State Amusement Ride Investigation

This week we learned of two state sanctions related to two high-profile amusement ride fatalities this summer:   the death of three year old Jason Dansby while riding the Python Pit roller coaster at Go Bananas family entertainment center in Illinois and the death of Sgt. James Hackemer while riding the Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake.  While the cases are quite similar in many respects, the sanctions imposed are quite different.  With respect to Go Bananas, the owner of the facility has been charged criminally with violation of the state’s amusement ride safety law and faces a potential jail term of up to a year and / or a fine of up to $2,500 while in the case of Darien Lake no criminal charges were filed and the facility was merely ordered to re-train ride operators and post better signage warning guests about ride safety requirements. 

So why the difference?  After all, Illinois and New York have similar ride safety laws (at least in this respect) and these two cases were quite similar in both the severity of the event and the conclusions reached by the state following the investigation.  It could reasonably be expected, therefore, that these states would impose similar sanctions or at least similarly serious sanctions at the end of the investigations.  After all, in a court of law similar cases tend to be treated similarly.  But these cases clearly weren't treated similarly.  Why not?  Was it that the state found one facility or ride to be “less safe” than the other?  Was it that the state found one operator better than the other?  I think the answer to both these questions, at least on the state of the current record, is no.  Rather, I think its likely that the difference in legal sanctions in these two cases can be attributed, as much as anything else, to political pressure exerted on state officials.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What The Mother Of A Two Year Old Can Teach Us About Avoiding Litigation

Yesterday, a Pennsylvania television station ran a story about Isabella Prescott, a 2-year old little girl with Downs Syndrome that was not permitted to ride the "Road Rally" ride at Dorney Park's Planet Snoopy.  According to the story, the ride attendant informed Isabella's mother that Isabella could not ride because she was "an infant" and because she couldn't walk (an assessment Isabella's mother, and the television reporter, dispute).  Isabella's mother believes that Dorney Park discriminated against her daughter and, according to the story, she plans to pursue legal action against the park.

But it wasn't the potential discrimination or the intention to pursue legal action that caught my eye.  It was this:

"Prescott said she is taking legal action against the park, but said she really just wants an apology."

I don't know if she really means it, but this request for a simple apology underscores the often discounted importance of guest service in preventing costly litigation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Look At Lawful Discrimination Under The ADA In Light Of The Darien Lake Tragedy

The news this week in the amusement industry was dominated by the tragic death of Iraq War Vet Sgt. James Hackemer after being ejected from the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake.  Sgt. Hackemer was a double amputee, having lost both legs at (or near) the hip as a result of an explosive during his tour in Iraq.  While he had prosthetic legs, there seems to be no dispute that he was not wearing them at the time he boarded the Ride of Steel.

Over the last week, many of us, myself included, have asked why this guest was permitted to board this ride, a 200 foot tall hypercoaster, renowned among enthusiasts for its negative g's.  Some have suggested that the ride operators felt pressure to allow a war hero to ride regardless of his physical condition.  Others have suggested that the ride operators (and perhaps the park) felt that the ADA required the park to allow Sgt. Hackemer access to the ride regardless of his disability.  Others may believe that allowing Sgt. Hackemer to board this coaster was, at the time, in the interest of guest service.  I feel compelled to address these suggestions from both a legal and operations perspective to dispel a common mistaken understanding of the ADA and to clarify the legal ramifications of refusing admission to a guest on the basis of a disability.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Prove Your Case When You Don't Need To? How The Court In the Disney Class Action Was The Plaintiffs' Best Lawyer

Yesterday, I looked at a potentially huge (and overlooked) win for Disney in the recent California Class Action decision in Shields v. Walt Disney Parks &Resorts US, Inc.While a potential liability savings of $44 million or more is great, the rest of of the decision, in which the District Court certified a nationwide class consisting of, at least, 36,000 visually impaired guests of Disneyland and Disney World, is not the stuff of blue birds and sing-songs.  In fact, after spending some time looking at the decision and the judge's analysis, I have to conclude that the best lawyer that plaintiffs had working on their side in the courtroom was not the one they were paying, but the court itself.

Friday, July 8, 2011

44 Million Ways Disney Won In The Recent California Class Action Ruling

On June 29, the US District Court for the Central District of California issued an important class certification decision in the case of Shields v. Wald Disney Parks and Resorts US, Inc..  The decision can be found here.  The decision can be seen as both a big win for Disney and as a disappointing loss based on some shaky legal analysis by the judge.  I'll be looking at the decision from both angles, but I'll start by looking at the positive end of the decision.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

Connecticut's New Paid Sick Leave Act : Who Wants The Weekend Off?

Connecticut's General Assembly recently passed a new paid sick leave act, requiring most employers to give their employees paid sick days after certain requirements are met.  Unfortunately, as with a lot of legislation, the effect of this new law on Connecticut's seasonal employers is anything but clear. If you want the thrill of reading the new legislation in all its scintillating glory, you can find it here.

Carnival prize as deadly weapon? The Missouri Court of Appeals Says Yes.

An interesting case from the Missouri Court of Appeals released earlier this week found that a carnival prize qualified as a "deadly weapon," specifically a "dagger," for purposes of Missouri's First-Degree Burglary law.  The case is State of Missouri v. Harrel, the opinion can be found here.  While most of us tend to think of carnival prizes as innocuous children's toys, in this case, the Court found it to be much more.  The Defendant, Lee Harrell, apparently took from his friend's home a replica "Sword of Narnia" that his friend's sons had won while visiting a local carnival.  Mr. Harrell then broke into a local church armed with the replica sword.