On Saturday, June 28th, seventeen year-old Asia LeeShawn Ferguson, was decapitated when he was struck by the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags over Georgia in Austell, Georgia.
Witnesses report that Ferguson, who was with his family and a church group from South Carolina, scaled two perimeter fences with another teenage friend and entered a danger zone inside the ride area.
Although some witnesses indicate Ferguson was trying to retrieve a lost hat or possibly touch the feet of riders on the ride, Cobb County police dismissed those rumors as unsubstantiated.Instead, Ferguson and his friend may simply have been trying to re-enter the park from the parking lot rather than using the main entrance as required.
Ferguson and his friend scaled a six-foot high chain link fence and then a six-foot high wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the ride.Six Flags reports the area was also off-limits via signage indicating “Authorized Personnel Only,” “Danger Zone” and “Do Not Enter.”
The Batman Ride achieves speeds of 50 mph as riders dangle from some 11-story high drops.The ride also has two vertical loops and a two single corkscrew turns.Ferguson was apparently struck by the descending ride as he entered the area.Cobb County Medical Examiners report he was killed instantly.His friend was not injured.
In May of 2002, the ride killed a 58- year-old groundskeeper after he also wandered into the restricted area.
Georgia Department of Labor, which oversees amusement parks, closed the ride for inspections and re-opened today with the assessment that more signage and more security personnel be added to the ride area.The ride has been in operation since 1997.
Internet reports of this tragedy are rife with condemnation for the teen who scaled two fences and ignored three danger signs – apparently to his death.
In legal terms, it may be that the teenager’s contributory negligence was the proximate cause of his death.Should the Ferguson family bring a wrong death suit against Six Flags, Six Flags would likely raise as a defense that Ferguson’s contributory negligence was greater than or equal to any negligence on the part of Six Flags.Six Flags would also likely argue that Ferguson was a trespasser in this restricted area and Six Flags duty was to warn him of known dangers.To the extent that Ferguson chose to ignore a known danger, then Six Flags cannot be responsible for his death.
All of these legal arguments sound in good policy.However, I cannot help but notice that a theme park ride, which has been open only eleven years, has killed two people under the same circumstances – struck by the ride while in a restricted area.Is it that the ride attracts the foolhardy to defy it?Or perhaps the danger signs are not readily visible?Granted, scaling two fences to access the area does suggest the area is off-limits. However, is it also possible that the danger is not open and obvious?
The Department of Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond has suggested more signage and more security personnel for this ride in the future.Six Flags of Georgia is obligated to follow these recommendations.The future of the Batman ride is up in the air (no pun intended).The future of Six Flags is as well apparently.Shares in Six Flags, Inc. dropped 20 cents on Monday after report of the death.Share prices closed at $1.15 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.This is the largest decline since Six Flags, Inc. reported earnings losses in November.
If you plan to spend the summer enjoying Six Flags or other theme parks, please warn your children to abide by all signage and stay within designated areas of the park.
If you believe that you or a loved one, may have a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a theme park, contact the law firm of Katz, Stepp and Wright for a free, private consultation.