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.

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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.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Innovate and Improve Through One Simple Change In How You Ask Legal Questions

Image result for changing mindsetAs I write this, I’m sitting in the United Club at Orlando International Airport (a perk of the constant travel I seem to do) and am reflecting back on a truly fantastic week at the IAAPA Expo 2018.  This year, for the first time, International Ride Training exhibited and had a booth in the Exploration Station – to the left of the ninjas and across from the dinosaur (you have GOT to love this industry).  The booth was a monumental success as it gave us the opportunity to meet with countless clients, potential clients, and new friends just discovering us for the first time.  I was also privileged to be a featured speaker for two seminars on the Americans With Disabilities Act and to actively participate in other sessions and meetings. In short, I met A LOT of people and, being a lawyer, got a lot of questions about compliance and best practices, whether it be with respect to the ADA or ride operations safety or business issues.  Most often, these questions started with a familiar clause:  “Do I have to ….”  Now, in reflecting back on these conversations, I’m wondering if that’s not exactly the right question.  Maybe the better question is “How do I ….” Or “What’s the most reasonable way to ….”  What’s the difference?  Read on, friends.  

To put it simply:  mindset.  That’s the difference.  The way we initially approach a question or a challenge, whether it be a business question or a legal challenge, defines in large measure how the solution will proceed and, I believe, charts the course for how effective the end solution may be. Let me illustrate using my favorite area of the law, the Americans With Disabilities Act.  

In one of my sessions at IAAPA, a gentleman stopped me at the end of the session and explained that he worked in a waterpark and that he was confused about the issue of guests with cognitive disabilities and, specifically, guests with autism spectrum disorder.  He explained that, from the operator’s perspective, there was considerable confusion about how to accommodate these guests when it comes to waiting in line and even whether the law required an accommodation.  Now, I don’t blame this gentleman for asking the question – he’s right.  There is a lot of confusion about these issues.  I point out this interaction because, at the end of it all, he said something like, “Do I have to allow these guests to go straight to the front of the line?”  And while unsaid, there’s a lot communicated in that question and the way it’s phrased that speaks to a mindset that sometimes arises in the industry.  

“Do I have to …” suggests that we don’t want to, but we will if forced to.  

·     The Question:  Do I have to accommodate guests with autism?

The Implication:  I would really prefer not to be bothered with these guests, so tell me the bare minimum the law is going to make me do.

·     The Question:  What do I have to have on my signs to provide an adequate warning to boarding riders?  

The Implication:  Everyone knows that no one is reading my signs anyway, so just tell me what the law requires so I can defend myself in court.

·     The Question:  What must I do to ensure that the restraints are secure on every seat, every cycle?

The Implication:  My rides are safe already and we know what we’re doing.  But some plaintiff’s lawyer is going to make a big deal if I don’t do something else I don’t really need to do. 

These questions suggest begrudging acceptance of the solution or the answer.  They suggest a willingness or desire to do only the minimum that is required to address the issue and to implement only that which is absolutely necessary under the law.  Perhaps most importantly, the way these questions are phrased suggest prejudgment about the answer – that it’s probably not “really” necessary from a practical standpoint, and that its only a “technicality” required to comply with a legal directive or address only a theoretical possibility.  Structured this way, we start down the path of problem-solving predisposed against the very solution we’re looking for.  Is that really the best way to approach the problem?

I don’t think it is.  So what about changing the way we ask the question in the first place?  Instead of asking “Do I have to …” how about “….

·     How do I accommodate guests with autism?

·     What’s the most reasonable way of warning riders with my signage?

·     How do I ensure that the restraints are secure on every seat, every cycle?

See the difference? Whereas before the question suggested immediate skepticism about the answer, the question now implies a genuine desire to solve the problem in the most effective and most reasonable way.  Making this slight change in syntax implies that we wantto accommodate guests with autism, provide meaningful warnings to our guests, and that we genuinely care about the safety of every guest that takes a ride.  We are asking the question because we want to know the answers and find solutions that work, not only because we are being forced to do so by the invisible hand of the law.  

Isn’t this the approach that fits best within our industry on the most fundamental level?  I’ve worked with parks and attractions all over the country and, while there are many differences between them, at their core they all have the same central value:  to provide the best experience for their guests that they can (taking, of course, budgetary restrictions into account).  In so many other aspects of our industry, we strive to find new ways to exceed our guests expectations so they feel welcome and wanted in our parks.  If that’s the way we are approaching food and beverage offerings, new attraction construction, guest service training, and park cleanliness, shouldn’t it also be the way we approach legal questions and risk management?  If we want all of our guests to feel welcome and wanted, we should be actively looking for ways to accommodate autistic guests so they feel welcome and wanted.  We should be genuinely interested in ways to make our warning signage more impactful and effective so that our guests get the information they need in a way that also manages your risk exposure.  We should be trying to innovate in the areas of ride safety so that we continue to improve guest safety beyond its already enviable current level while, again, reducing your risk profile.  Approaching these questions as ways to make your business better, rather than obstacles and expenses impeding business growth and burdening your operation, changes the entire calculation, encourages innovation, and motivates creative thinking about solutions.  

Not too bad for such a little change in wording, right?


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