Its A Small (And Litigatious) World: California Man Receives Damages For Being Stuck In Disney Ride

220px-IASW_HKThere is an interesting case out of Disneyland this month where a paraplegic man was stuck on the famous (infamous?) Its A Small World ride after a breakdown and sued for emotional distress. It is the scene of countless parodies of people going mad in the ride. What is interesting is that Jose Martinez, 52, was only left for 30 minutes and it was at the end of the ride as they were leaving the goodbye tunnel. While the music continues to play, it was only for 30 minutes as they fixed a mechanical problem. Nevertheless, Disney was hit with damages to the tune of $8000.


Martinez was at the park with his wife in Nov. 27, 2009. They evacuated everyone but could not evacuate him immediately due to his disability. Rather than call the fire department, they fixed the ride and he was moved to the departure area where he could be helped out of the boat. Martinez needed medical attention for the stress and later sued. He said that the park should have called the fire department. However, it would likely have taken at least that amount of time for the fire department to get there, evaluate the situation, and carry him off the ride.

The federal court awarded $4,000 for pain and suffering and $4,000 related to other access violations. I must confess some concern over the award since mechanical problems and slight delays occur routinely in any large organization. Indeed, the lines alone at Disney can take two hours. I am also curious about the access violation. This is a low amount for a serious violation of the disability law. It suggests that there are handicapped areas and resources as one might expect but that this was a fine for the failure to remove Martinez rather than to transport him to the nearby exit for exiting passengers. Moreover this was not a thrill ride where you are stuck at some precarious height or angle. The ride moves slowly in a boat, which is clearly on tracks. You would be in greater risk standing at the Disney dress store among Princess-crazy girls.

Even as a kid, I thought the ride was pretty darn creepy. Now I go as a cultural touchstone. Now it will hold even more special meaning as a to

Source: LA Times

23 thoughts on “Its A Small (And Litigatious) World: California Man Receives Damages For Being Stuck In Disney Ride

  1. Mr. Martinez gained $8,000 and shed his dignity in front of the world.

    While it might seem a bad bargain, I would guess that he has displayed that peculiar set of ethics before.

  2. I’m no fan of Disney, quite the contrary, but $8K for a 30 minute delay is excessive considering no physical harm is alleged.

  3. I have to have some sypathy for the man since having to sit through an interminable renditon of its a small world for even 15 minutes would be cruel and unusual punishment if handed out as a criminal sentence. Had that happened to me, not only would I sue, but at the time I would have gone back into the park with my trusty .357 and SHOT every damn speaker that was playing that song. The award was NOT excessive at all under those circumstances.

  4. Of course, everyone knows discharging a firearm in public and vandalism is a perfectly rational reaction to having to hear a song one does not like. How silly of me.

  5. I don’t believe a word of his injury claim. It seems more opportunistic than having suffered any real damage. I’ve seen this type of behavior before. The person seems fine and when their mind starts thinking about who was involved and the potential for money, suddenly some form of injury/crisis is crafted.

    He probably spent longer than that inside his car on the way to the park.

  6. I am of 2 minds about this.
    On the one hand it does seem asinine. On the other, after a surgery I was using a cane and had balance problems so I could not use stairs.. When I got back from Phila to Penn Station at that time they had no handicap access. I had to wait for a porter to carry me, up 2 flights of stairs, until he got me where he could plop me. It was utterly humiliating.
    Prof. Turley assumes how long it would take the fire department to get there. Being unable to walk on your own, to be at the absolute mercy of the staff, and we do not know how they treated him, could well be emotionally injurious. (Whether it is 8,000$ worth is a different question.)

  7. NOwhere did I imply that shooting the speakers would be a rational act. In fact, had the person done that and been arrested, I think that a temporary insanity defence is viable. If I were the defense attorney, I would insist on playing that song in court at the same level and intensity as the poor rider experienced and for the same amount of time. My only restriction would be to disarm the bailiff and give the judge leave to get out of the courtroom, since there has to be at least one sane person left Then I would leave it up to the jury to decide, once they had sufficiently recovered..

  8. I suspect the plaintiffs attorney probably played that song for a few minutes in court, and thus the award. Had he done it for the whole 30 minutes, i think the jury would have made it over one million dollars. Then the jurors could have sued the plaintiff for emotional distress too.

  9. I agree that it is a horrific song. In fact, I find almost everything about Disney and their products to be appalling. But I also know that I absolutely hate almost every song by the group Boston (it’s an over-exposure thing, not a musical thing unlike “It’s a Small World”). Would I sue Disney if I had to listen to “Take A Ride” for 30 minutes while they fixed a broken machine? That’s hearing the song about 3.5 times and it’s comparable in length to “It’s a Small World”. You hear the song about twice in a 15 minute ride. Does the harm match the damages? Not unless the wait, the malfunction or the repair itself caused substantive physical or psychological harm. Bad music is not a substantive harm unless it is raised to the level of psychological torture. If it were, the employees would have a valid suit against the park for providing an injurious work environment. Hell, they pipe the song continually over the PA in parts of the park if it’s still anything like it was when I was there 20 years ago. 30 minutes (45 total if you count the full ride as well) is not that psychological torture level of exposure. II don’t like Disney. At all. But $8K for this is simply sticking it to them because they have deep pockets.

  10. This guy probably still has an ear worm of the song. When I went through the ride decades ago, the song was ok til about half way thru the ride, than it became a nuisance. By the end of the ride I was soooo relieved to no longer hear it, but it was still in my head. Maybe if they had turned the music off……….
    I don’t know about the amount but he definitely was subjected to stress.

  11. Sorry to be the contrarian, but I think it’s a low award. Listen to that video! (I know it’s Disney World not Disneyland but it’s close). If I had to listen to blaring, mind-numbing Disneyland music for 30 minutes stuck in some dark cave on a boat while everyone around me got taken off, I’d want a heck of a lot more than $8,000.00. Couldn’t move him because of his disability? Why? The law says equal access which means equal egress too. It’s not exactly fording the Amazon River to get the guy out and if you cater to those with disabilities you must foresee that rides can break down and there needs to be a mechanism in place to get your customers out . Given his disability he should have gone first and even given my admitted limited understand of the needs of those diagnosed with paraplegia, I believe his needs were the most pressing especially since no one knew how long the ride would be stuck when they started evacuating the passengers.

    Whew…. Ok, it’s the Plaintiff’s lawyer in me. I know. :D

  12. mespo,

    Yep. I lived in a market for a long time that had a rock station that was guaranteed to play a Boston song per hour. It was a very popular station and on in businesses about town that it was practically inescapable. I have the same reaction to “Stairway to Heaven” too. Not bad music per se, but I’ve just heard it so much by now that it makes my ears hurt when they start playing.

  13. If I was Disney I would have asserted Assumption of Risk. If he had a disability he should get in a golf cart and ride around and look. But to get on some theme ride one takes on the risk of breakdown. Is he gonna sue Ford if he has a flat tire on the way home from Disney World? The award was too much. Maybe five cents a minute times thirty minutes and then a year in jail with time off for good behavior and a probation condition that he not go near Disney World.

  14. My half blind guy for whom I am guide dog had to go poddy real bad while we were at Disney World. The place was crowded and he had to wait for an hour to get to a toilet. It has only been a year so the statute of limitations has not run. I am gonna print out the article on this and put it on his large TV screen which puts print up to half blind guy size so he can read it. I have to sneek it because he does not know I can read, that I can talk on the Dogalogue Machine or even know written English. I do punch the Walk button at the cross walk so he knows I am semi literate. We go to the Disney joint here in Florida. It is not far from Palm Beach when you have long distance Call A Ride.

  15. Barkin:

    “If I was Disney I would have asserted Assumption of Risk. If he had a disability he should get in a golf cart and ride around and look.”

    *********************

    And you would have lost since the risk was not obvious and its not fully and adequately disclosed to the customer. There is no duty on the consumer to carry out an investigation of the use of product absent some evidence of obvious danger.

  16. “Mr. Martinez gained $8,000 and shed his dignity in front of the world.”

    Steve Fleisher,

    Do you mean he shed his dignity as much as a Donald Trump, or Mitt Romney? Perhaps though, you believe they they are “entitled” to being richly rewarded by nature of their births and being born to the manor precludes being seen as undignified.

  17. “If I had to listen to blaring, mind-numbing Disneyland music for 30 minutes stuck in some dark cave on a boat while everyone around me got taken off, I’d want a heck of a lot more than $8,000.00. Couldn’t move him because of his disability? Why? The law says equal access which means equal egress too. It’s not exactly fording the Amazon River to get the guy out and if you cater to those with disabilities you must foresee that rides can break down and there needs to be a mechanism in place to get your customers out . Given his disability he should have gone first and even given my admitted limited understand of the needs of those diagnosed with paraplegia, I believe his needs were the most pressing especially since no one knew how long the ride would be stuck when they started evacuating the passengers.”

    Mespo,

    Amen. I sent my kids to Disney-world via camp. I’ve never gotten the Disney lifestyle and have avoided going there for an entire lifetime. Fortunately, my children don’t seem to have had Disney adversely affect their lives and so I ca breathe easier as a father for letting them be exposed to it without my protective presence. Are people really bitching about this man getting $8,000, when totally incompetent CEO’s make multi-millions for destroying their companies?

  18. Arthur Randolph Erb
    1, March 28, 2013 at 10:44 am
    I have to have some sypathy for the man since having to sit through an interminable renditon of its a small world for even 15 minutes would be cruel and unusual punishment if handed out as a criminal sentence. Had that happened to me, not only would I sue, but at the time I would have gone back into the park with my trusty .357 and SHOT every damn speaker that was playing that song. The award was NOT excessive at all under those circumstances.

    Ah yes, the gun culture … always appropriate

  19. i’ve lived in central floriduh on and off since the mid 80’s and i’ve never once had the desire to go to mickeyworld. they should’ve given him a free three day pass so he can o.d. on that crap.

    but i guess he got “more than a feeling” and “peace of mind” to go with the 8g’s. “don’t look back”, jose martinez.

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