About Me

My photo
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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Cause" for Alarm: 3 Ways To Reduce The Chance Of A Public Interest Lawsuit

Two news items that, on the surface at least, do not seem to have much in common caught my eye this week.  First, USA Today reported that Cedar Point has decided to change the names of two of its Halloween attractions, apparently due to complaints from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (“NAMI”).  According to media reports, NAMI took issue with a haunted house called “Dr. D. Menteds Asylum for the Criminally Insane” and a musical show entitled “The Edge of Madness:  Still Crazy,” claiming that they promoted false stereotypes of the mentally ill.   

Second came news yesterday about the temporary closure of Rye Playland due to a disturbance that occurred when a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf, or hijab, was not allowed to board a ride due to a rule prohibiting any kind of headwear while riding.  The park reportedly had many Muslim guests in attendance celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr -  the holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  While some guests at the park, not to mention the president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - New York, believe this to be an example of Islamic intolerance, the park maintains (quite reasonably I believe) that this is a safety issue of general applicability to prevent hats and other headwear from becoming projectiles that could presumably hit other guests, become entangled in machinery, or cause shutdowns. 

Was Cedar Point right to change the names of its attractions to placate the protestations from NAMI?  Should Rye Playland have altered its headwear policy after hearing claims of perceived religious intolerance?  The answers to these questions highlight the fine line an amusement facility must walk when dealing with a “cause.”  Whether they be social, religious, human rights, animal rights, or any other “cause,” the legal, financial, and public relations impact of these interactions must be handled appropriately to avoid potentially disastrous results.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Are California Courts Already Signaling Doubt About The Future Of The Nalwa Decision?

On Tuesday (8/16/11), the United States District Court for the Southern District of California issued an interesting decision in Wallace v. Busch Entertainment Corporation (now Seaworld Parks & Entertainment).  The factual background of the case is not especially remarkable - it is a rather run-of-the-mill personal injury lawsuit.  The plaintiff purchased a ticket to use the bungee trampoline in Seaworlds "Xtreme Zone," read and signed a liability waiver, followed the directions of the attendant, and was injured (a torn tendon in his left bicep).  The plaintiff sued alleging theories of negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, breach of warranty, and products liability.  The court ultimately found that the plaintiff's breach of warranty and products liability claims were meritless and granted judgment in Seaworld's favor as to those counts.  Additionally, the court held that the plaintiff's negligence claim was foreclosed by the liability waiver he had signed, and therefore found in Seaworld's favor on that count as well. 

However, despite these victories, Seaworld did not prevail on plaintiff's negligence per se, and gross negligence claims, and it is in this respect that the case is really interesting - not because of anything the Court said, but because of what it didn't.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Curing The Crisis Of Credibility And Kicking The "Carnie" Connotation

 A few days ago, my friend and former colleague, Matt Heller, posted some interesting and spot-on thoughts on professionalism on his excellent leadership blog.  Matt makes the point that “the perception of safety is largely determined by what we see and experience,” and to support this point he attached this photo capture from a travel channel program on amusement parks, asking the question, “is this really how you want your facility portrayed on TV, or at all?”  

Matt’s point is very well taken.  Appearance and professionalism matter when it comes to the perception of safety. However, it doesn’t just stop at the perception of safety.  Rather, these same issues – appearance, cleanliness, and professionalism - also have a real impact on the perception of credibility – and this is a crucial issue to getting the best result possible in every form of legal proceeding.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Our Founding Fathers Would Have Been Against Federal Amusement Ride Regulation (Had They Known What Amusement Rides Were)

This morning, upon returning to my office from a few days off to visit with long-lost friends at my twenty-year high school reunion, I came across an article in USA Today with the rather misleading headline “Carnival Ride Safety Varies By State.”  I note that the headline is misleading because it erroneously implies that the article will discuss varying levels of ride safety itself in various states, i.e. that rides located in one state are inherently “more safe” than the same ride located in another state or that ride injuries or deaths are higher or lower in one state than another.  However, that is not at all what the article is about.  Really, the article focuses not on safety per se, but on the now familiar and oft discussed “patchwork” of state amusement ride regulations that consequently result in varying levels of inspections and oversight between the various states when it comes to inflatable and amusement ride regulation.  The article, as others have before, implies that this lack of regulatory uniformity somehow means that amusement rides in states with higher levels of oversight are more safe than rides with lesser inspection or reporting requirements.  Of course, no data is cited that would show that to be true.  Moreover, after reading this article, I had to wonder why the amusement industry so often is singled out for its “patchwork” regulatory oversight when, in reality, state-by-state regulation is, by design of our founding fathers, the rule rather than the exception in the United States.