Disabled man awarded $8,000 for being stuck on Disneyland's Small World

Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2013 8:20 AM | Contributed by Jeff

A disabled man who was stuck inside Disneyland's "It's A Small World" ride four years ago and later sued the amusement park has been awarded $8,000 in a court decision, the man's attorney said Tuesday.

Read more from The LA Times.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013 11:16 AM

Right, Carrie. ADA mandates that the disabled person must be able to access pathways, entrances, exits, goods, and services themselves, or receive assistance from staff/personel should the need arise. In other words, if I have a store I don't have to have all shelves made for chair accessibility, but I am required to provide assistance should the disabled person need access to the shelves.

Certainly, no amusement park should be expected to provide egress from every point along every ride, structure, or attraction to every disabled patron. As long as they allow him to board they should be able and willing to assist him to that exit when the need arises. So this is where the judge found Disney at fault. It appeared that everyone was able to exit the stranded vehicle but Mr. Martinez, and the only reason he couldn't is that they seemed unwilling to help him. And I guess that's worth four thousand bucks.

Where I'm hazy on the subject is who determines his right to board in the first place? Amusement parks aren't supermarkets, and perhaps patrons have less of a "right" or expectation to participate. So the park makes the determination? Height requirements, for instance, are in place for children's safety, and I'd guess the park and the manufacturer have input as to what restrictions they should impose. But who draws the line in front of people who are wheelchair bound, or those with no hands or legs without running afoul of the ADA? And does Disney, in light of this decision, have the right to now say that wheelchair bound customers are barred from riding It's a Small World simply because they don't want to go through this again or take necessary steps?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 1:17 PM

RCMAC said:

It appeared that everyone was able to exit the stranded vehicle but Mr. Martinez, and the only reason he couldn't is that they seemed unwilling to help him.

That was my original point... I think that's an assumption. If they felt at the time that it wouldn't have been safe to help him in that location, then they made the right decision to wait until they could get the boat to a place where they could. This isn't any different from the average "stuck" roller coaster scenario. Sure, you could empty people off a train at the top of the lift, but your first and safer preference is to get that train moving and people off where it's safest: The station.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 1:31 PM

But it's equally an assumption that they chose to wait on the basis of safety. The courts ruled they violated access laws which leads me to believe they felt there was a reasonable expectation to assist the man where he was. The article Vater linked to said the problem was they couldn't get to his chair in a timely manner. That's a far cry from the ride vehicle being in an unsafe location.

I just think it's interesting that the majority argument is against the man who brought the suit for being frivolous, but not the courts for ruling in his favor.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 2:05 PM

Is Disney making modifications to the attraction so that if/when it gets stuck in a similar situation that a handicapped person would be "evacuable" (*wink*) at the lcation where the ride is stopped? That would seem to suggest that a continuous ride like IASW would have to undergo fairly major renovations in order to be able to get a wheelchair-bound patron off from any conceivable sopping-point on the ride.

I'm not even trying to argue for or against, just thinking about what it might take to get someone off the ride from literally any guest area the ride traverses. And then, what about other rides (Haunted Mansion, for example)?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 4:38 PM

I don't know that they need to make sure every guest (physically challenged or not) needs to be evacuable (<-- it's catching on) from every point. There's so much about the circumstances that we don't know from these articles.

But again, the article that Vater linked to said the problem was the park didn't get to his wheelchair in a timely way. That means the access violations may not have been structural at all. Don't know.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 6:44 PM

Carrie, that's a fair point about the judge ruling in his favor. To me, judges who rule in favor of the folks making frivolous lawsuits are partly to blame. If people knew they couldn't win hokey lawsuits, there'd be less of them.

I would also like to hear all the details regarding the access violations, but I'm inclined to believe that this individual's main issue is that as soon as there was an issue, they didn't drop everything and go right for him first, and I take issue with that for several reasons.

1) If there is no reason to believe a breakdown will be extensive, you don't evacuate people outside of the station. Jeff touched on this earlier. IASW is a high-capacity slow-moving boat ride, and you'd need a massive amount of people to get everybody off quickly, and given the difficulty in getting to people anywhere other than the station, if you can cycle them through, albeit slowly, you take that approach. I had a 30-minute Splash Mountain experience once, but that's what it took to get everybody to the station and get them off the ride.

2) To get somebody off at any point in the ride, you'd need catwalks along its entire length, or, as I mentioned earlier, hordes of people with specialized equipment. Neither one is a reasonable expectation, especially in light of the fact that this wasn't an emergency situation.

3) The apparent main cause of this inconvenience was this person's psychological inability to handle a breakdown, not the fact that he was in a wheelchair. That didn't help the situation, but there's no way any ride operator, mechanic, or park representative would have known that about this individual. Furthermore, he chose to get on the ride, and I, and anybody who has ever been a ride op, would take that as your ability to handle what the ride puts you through, especially considering the fact that there are signs posted all over the place with safety and warning information on them.

4) Why would they go for you first? This was alluded to earlier, but you being in a wheelchair isn't enough to tip off a ride operator that they should come for you first instead of following standard evac procedures.

I'm really not trying to be insensitive here, but there'd have to be some glaring issue that we haven't discovered yet to convince me that Disney was at fault. Unfortunate situations happen sometimes, but that doesn't mean that somebody is to blame.

Last edited by sirloindude, Tuesday, April 2, 2013 7:16 PM
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:38 PM

Justin, I can see your points...if what you are saying is true. But I think you're making a lot of assumptions there.

1) Did I miss something about cycling people through? I was under the impression that others were being evacuated from where they were while this man was not.

2) I've already addressed above that I'm not sure the expectation is/was that everyone be able to evacuate at any point in the ride. I am under the impression from the article that Disney could have evacuated him, but didn't get to his wheelchair until after the delay.

3) I don't think the main inconvenience was the man's psychological issue brought about by his physical one. I think 1/2 of the ruling was negligence and the other 1/2 was access violations. It's not like he received pain and suffering. The court determined Disney could have reasonably done something that they didn't do. Right or wrong, that was the finding. It wasn't because the man suffered due to his condition.

4) I haven't seen anything that suggests the expectation was that he be accommodated first. Where did I miss that?

The only other thing I want to mention is that to my knowledge judges don't have the discretion to weigh in on frivolity. They have to uphold the law. If they believe a law was broken, then they act accordingly. Can they be wrong? Absolutely. But they are not simply supporting whimsical money grabs.

Last edited by Carrie J., Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:39 PM
Wednesday, April 3, 2013 12:36 AM

I am making a lot of assumptions, indeed, but I'm basing them off of ride op, evac, and IASW experience. I'm still having a hard time with a few things.

First off, I'm curious about the evacuation system on the ride in general and the comment that this guy could see people being evacuated around him. He's in the last tunnel as I understand it, so the people being evacuated around him could have been people getting off in the station. Disabled or not, how is someone going to be evacuated anywhere else? There aren't catwalks the length of the entire ride, and besides, I doubt this guy knows if somebody in another section of the ride is being evacuated, and honestly, without some sort of rescue boat, how would anybody get evacuated outside of the station or one of the rare parts of the ride where maybe you're close enough to an outcropping to step out of your boat that's going to wobble onto a solid surface. There's more about this I want to say, but I'll get to it in a minute.

Second, it was FORTY MINUTES. When a ride breaks down, the evacuation doesn't start immediately except in an extreme emergency, and I'm sure if there was one, we'd have heard about it. Ultimately, parks generally seem to resort to evacuating guests only when the expected duration of the breakdown is extensive. Frankly, getting this person off in forty minutes seems like a perfectly reasonable amount of time to me. This guy is on a boat ride with a whole lot of other people who want to get off just as badly as he does. This goes to your response to my fourth point, and I guess what I'm trying to say is that at forty minutes, I'd be surprised if he was that far behind. Yes, that's an assumption based on past experiences on other rides, but I think it has some merit. Now, if it had taken three hours or something where he's the only person left on the whole ride and has to wait it out, then I'd be singing a different tune.

Third, and this is what I was alluding to earlier, what are the access violations and is the solution reasonable? Airlines transport passengers every day who have no ability to walk or move under their own power. If, heaven forbid, that airplane goes down and you've got to evacuate immediately, the only way to get that person off the plane is to carry them off, and in a time-sensitive evacuation, that isn't reasonable. As such, those passengers should (and I believe they often do) accept that they have to go down with the ship. Sometimes you need to accept that if you want to participate in certain activities or ride certain rides, you accept that there's additional risk for you to do so. This is where the whole personal responsibility aspect kicks in again.

Again, yes, I'm making assumptions, but I'm really having a difficult time seeing how this individual could have been evacuated faster without inconvenience to other riders or without some excessive modification to the ride. I think that being able to read a copy of the ruling would be helpful, but it seems that every angle I examine in this case leads me to have difficulty finding fault with Disney, but then, I just don't think that this is a situation where anybody needs to be at fault.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:15 AM

From what little I've read and seen on video, others were evacuated, but no one told him what was going on or came to even try to evacuate him. The man has a condition related to his paralysis called dysreflexia. This CAN be a life threatening condition, causing extremely elevated blood pressure and anxiety, sometimes with increases to over 200 systolic (definite risk for stroke and heart attack at this point). The reasons for exacerbations of dysreflexia are somewhat unknown, but one is thought to be from having a full bladder. Somewhere I read that this man had stated that he had needed to use the restroom while stuck on the ride.

I was unable to find anything stating whether or not he actually suffered from a dysreflexia attack or if he sought medical attention after the incident; only that he said he needed to stabilize for over three hours after the IASW debaucle.

I'm not saying that suing was appropriate, but I can honestly see a little better where he'd be upset if he started to not feel well, no one helped him or tried to help him (which probably made him MORE anxious), and he had no idea if he'd be evacuated in time to stop something very bad from happening. It would be very scary. Still, other than telling him what was going on, I don't know what Disney could have done. It does make one think.

I wonder if there is a possibility of fashioning some sort of special gondola for handicapped access on some of these rides. I'm not being funny here (not intentionally anyway). It would be costly, yes, but I don't know if it would be more or less than re-profiling entire areas of certain rides.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 11:11 AM

Justin, this is probably the point in the discussion where we just keep going in circles and I don't like spinny rides, so... ;-)

I agree completely with the notion that just because someone can sue, doesn't mean that they should.

Having said that, my sticking point with this discussion has been that the court ruled in his favor. From my "law school for dummies" book, that tells me that they determined that there was a reasonable expectation that Disney could have/should have done something that they did not do.

You can disagree based on your experience with what constitutes reasonable, but there was something in the man's story that compelled the courts based on the law to rule in his favor. That's enough for me to stay off the "frivolous money grab" bandwagon.

You could be completely right with all of your assumptions. I don't know. I'm just filling in the gaping holes in this story differently than you are.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 11:21 AM

You are correct in that this individual won, so I accept that there is a strong possibility I've missed something. I was just more or less thinking out loud and wondering if the judge and I have two different definitions of "access violations." I'd love to read the findings. I thank you for the lively debate, though.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 11:32 AM

I think what is being overlooked here isn't so much that the guy got $8k, Carrie's point is that a court of law ruled that Disney was liable for not having something in place to accomodate people in a wheelchair, should this happen again. They were basically 'fined' in that the ruling found them at fault for around $4k worth of...neglegence? I doubt that's the right word, but they found that Disney could have had something in place (Even if it was a rule that certain people can't be accomodated on the ride, I would assume) to avoid this situation.

I don't think the man should have sued, he should have some responsibility for himself, but he only got $8000. That's barely an ATM fee for Disney.

Thursday, April 4, 2013 9:45 AM

This is purely disgusting. The man was not injured, only incovenienced. Is this mans time really worth $12,000/hour? Does he make that much? Did the park time he missed because of being stuck cost that much?

Our court systems are screwed up. Karma eventually gets greed people like this.

Last edited by super7*, Thursday, April 4, 2013 9:47 AM
Thursday, April 4, 2013 11:59 AM

Damn. If only we had a real lawyer around here...

Thursday, April 4, 2013 12:00 PM

Or if only there was an IQ requrement to post.

Thursday, April 4, 2013 12:15 PM

Arrghhh! Courts! Lawyers! Superficial analysis!

Amirite, folks?

Thursday, April 4, 2013 2:19 PM

Quick update: In an interview with the man, it was revealed that Disney was in violation of rules and procedures for notifying disabled patrons of possible danger of breakdowns and possible inaccessibility for evacuation. Disney was also in violation of evacuation protocols for this ride (so as Carrie said, laws were broken). The man did suffer from a dysreflexia exacerbation and ended up with dangerously high blood pressures and stated to a Disney employee he was going to have a stroke, at which point the Disney employee offered the medical team. Mr. Martinez stated this was not done in a timely manner.

All this is well and good, but get this: he and his wife went BACK to Disneyland the day before the trial. He said the It's a Small World attraction shut down again while him and his wife were there. My guess? They saw him coming. *laugh*

So anyway, who DOES that? If I got that sick on a ride because I was stuck on it for however long, and then I decided to sue the park, and the trial hasn't even started....?! Is it just me, or is that bizarre to the Nth degree? I mean, one would think he wasn't there riding rides then, but...I was just starting to feel for the guy a little bit, but those sympathetic feelings have quickly receded and vanished.

Friday, April 5, 2013 3:00 AM

Tekwardo said:

Or if only there was an IQ requrement to post.

You misspelled requirement, Mr. high IQ.

Friday, April 5, 2013 7:39 AM

I didn't say it needed to be high, just high enough to post :-P.

Friday, April 5, 2013 10:03 AM

To make GOOD haiku

it often seems essential

to have "fair" IQ


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