Jury can hear of changes to Disney ride after death
A judge ruled Monday that a jury can hear about changes The Walt Disney Co. made to the Indiana Jones Adventure ride after a woman's death from a ruptured brain aneurysm, which her family contends was triggered by the Disneyland attraction she rode on her honeymoon.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn issued his ruling as trial approaches in the case brought by the estate of Cristina Moreno of Spain in September 2001.
According to the suit, the 23-year-old Barcelona woman complained of a severe headache after riding the Indiana Jones Adventure on June 25, 2000. She was hospitalized that evening after losing consciousness and was found to have brain hemorrhaging. She died Sept. 1.
Her family's complaint alleges Disney decided to "push the envelope to the extreme" in designing the attraction, creating a ride that is "fast, turbulent, combining the ups and downs of a roller coaster with jarring jumps, drops and unpredictable movements."
Riding the attraction's jeep-style vehicles "shakes and whipsaws riders with such fury that many passengers are forced to seek first aid and in some instances hospitalization," according to the suit. The design has a history of causing injury to riders, causing severe brain bleeding similar to that seen in "shaken-baby syndrome," the complaint alleges.
Attorneys for Disney maintain the attraction is safe and that the woman's death was unrelated to the ride, which opened in March 1995 and is still part of the park's Adventureland. It is based on the "Indiana Jones" films starring Harrison Ford.
Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin early next month. Although Disneyland is in Orange County, the trial will take place in Los Angeles County because Disney is headquartered in Burbank, said Barry Novack, the attorney for the Moreno estate.
Gary A. Wolensky, an attorney for The Disney Co., told Dunn that the changes to the ride were made in May 2002 to make it more reliable and so that it would last longer, not to make it safer in response to Moreno's death.
Wolensky argued that allowing jurors to hear about the improvements could prejudice them against The Disney Co. by allowing Moreno's lawyer to say, "See, these modifications were made to smooth the ride down for safety issues."
Novack said Disney's lawyers were making a familiar argument.
"In all my years handling cases against The Disney Co., they've never once admitted they made changes for safety reasons," said Novack, who has handled several other cases involving patrons allegedly injured on the Indiana Jones ride.
Moreno's estate is seeking more than $1 million in damages on grounds of common carrier and strict products liability. According to the attorney, the woman's medical bills amounted to more than $1 million.
Dunn said he expects the trial to last about two months.
The case became the subject of significant discussion in the legal community in June 2005, when the California Supreme Court upheld a state appellate court decision regarding Disney's duty of care to Moreno and other riders of the Indiana Jones attraction.
The high court ruled the duty was similar to that owed to passengers on a public bus line.