Legal roller coaster for thrill parks

SANDUSKY Some guests slip and trip their way into lawsuits against area amusement and waterparks. For the parks, such
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Some guests slip and trip their way into lawsuits against area amusement and waterparks.

For the parks, such lawsuits go with the territory of offering thrills to millions of guests each year. Some, experts say, see deep pockets and dollar signs after taking spills on park property.

About a dozen lawsuits are active in Erie County Common Pleas Court against both Cedar Point, its parent company, Cedar Fair; and against Kalahari Waterpark Resort.

These lawsuits range from a woman claiming she tripped on a walkway because Cedar Point's Breakers Hotel failed to "keep its walkways in repair and free from any condition which may create a hazard or nuisance" to a man who was apparently startled into falling down at Castaway Bay Waterpark and Resort because "fountains were activated randomly without warning" nearby.

Attorney J. Michael Vassar and his Toledo firm have frequently represented Cedar Point in lawsuits for about 30 years.

"Many of the cases that are filed are frivolous and Cedar Point will defend them," he said. "They have a very justifiable reputation for safety."

He said people may see large parks as an outlet for easy money.

"Things that happen at their home or their friend's homes that would never generate a lawsuit will often generate a lawsuit if it happens at Cedar Point, which is unfortunate," he said.

Cedar Point spokesman Robin Innes declined to discuss past or present lawsuits against the park.

"We don't normally disclose information about suits that have already gone to litigation," he said.

About 3 million guests visit the park each year, and in the case that a patron is injured, Innes said employees are trained to call the first aid department.

"We will send out personnel to assist them at that site," he said, adding that there are two first aid stations on park grounds and one at Soak City waterpark.

Signs are also posted at the gate to each ride at the park reminding patrons of suggestions to whether they should ride or not, Innes said. These include warnings for people with back problems, heart conditions and for women who may be pregnant.

The park employs various outside legal counsel, according to Stacy Frole, director of investor relations for Cedar Fair.

"Each situation is different. Who we use would be dependent on the situation," she said.

As per company policy, there are strict guidelines on talking about legal matters involving the park, Frole said.

Down U.S. 250, Kalahari Waterpark Resort employs a corporate lawyer from its Wisconsin resort location for legal issues. This position has been full-time for about three months, said Josef Haas, chief operating officer for Kalahari.

How much a lawsuit costs the park depends on the nature of the suit, he said. Upper limits on some awards go up to $2 million per case.

"Ninety percent of issues in our waterpark are all insurance-related," Haas said, adding that the company has about five to six insurance carriers, each providing varying coverage from liability to casualty to fire.

"We don't normally settle for anything out of court or behind the scenes," Haas added, explaining the park doesn't want to do that in case the plaintiff comes back with more allegations.

With about one million people passing through Kalahari's doors each year, guest safety is a top concern, Haas said.

"We are taking extreme care in our safety measures for our guests and for our associates to provide an environment that isn't dangerous for anyone involved," he said. "We try to be proactive and not reactive."

Still, no one can predict the unexpected.

"Things do malfunction," Hass said. "It happens. It doesn't mean the company is negligent."

Employees at Kalahari are also given safety training and slides and rides are quickly shut down if there are possible safety issues.

"We have plans in place so that when something does happen, our guests get the best care," Haas said.

Andrew Wilson, a member of a public relations firm that represents Great Wolf Lodge, said the company would not comment on lawsuits or their legal counsel because of "confidentiality reasons."

For a list of significant lawsuits pending against area parks, see Sunday's Register or the ePaper