Six Flags must be held accountable for tragedy

On Sept. 12, the family of Rosa Esparza, a 52-year-old woman who died earlier this summer, filed a lawsuit against Six Flags Over Texas, according to ABC News. On July 19, Esparza was hurled 75 feet from a cart maneuvering twists and turns at over 60 miles per hour on the ride Texas Giant. Upon the amusement park’s announcement that the ride was would reopen, the family promptly filed suit accusing Six Flags of negligence and requesting at least $1 million in compensation.

The suit alleges that the T-shaped lap bar that is installed in the amusement park’s roller coasters and is intended to securely fasten riders in place had malfunctioned while Esparza was on the ride. Inspections of the Texas Giant following Esparza’s death confirmed the faulty lap bar, exposing inconsistencies and intermittent failures within various parts of the ride’s safety system.

Six Flags, however, maintains that there were no mechanical failures on the cart Esparza was riding. Instead, what has been highlighted in the issue is Esparza’s physique; debate has arisen over whether or not the lap bar was designed to secure someone of her weight, a 200-plus pounds supported by a mere 5-foot-2 frame, according to ABC News.

Esparza’s family is entirely correct in pursuing a suit against Six Flags. It is outrageous to pin the fault on Esparza for not being aware of her own weight in relation to the cart when the one responsibility maintained by roller coaster operators is to guarantee the safety of patrons through safety measure compliance.

One cannot be quick to assume that Esparza’s failure to comply with safety guidelines of weight measurements was her own fault. The truth of the matter is that a rider’s unfamiliarity with safety guidelines is credited entirely to the negligence and incompetence of roller coaster personnel in fulfilling their sole responsibility of ensuring patron safety on rides, thus rightfully pinning the family’s blame on the amusement park.

There have been numerous insensitive opinions asserting that the lawsuit is just an extension of “sue-happy” American culture, noting that Esparza is the only one who maintains responsibility for her death by failing to recognize that the ride was not designed to support someone of her stature.

This argument is outrageous and roots itself in pure ignorance; the indisputable fact of the matter is that the primary responsibility of amusement park personnel is to make certain that riders are familiar with safety measurements before they are seated in their cart. Furthermore, though it would behoove them to be aware of safety regulations, it is entirely irrelevant whether or not park patrons are familiar with these measurements — if an individual is unfit to be on a certain ride, personnel are fully responsible for knowing the lethal repercussions of breaching safety measurements and ensuring that that individual does not end up riding the roller coaster, period.

Another handful of critics are asserting that many overweight individuals often create a fuss over personnel stating that they will not be able to ride, and that this protest often leads to personnel simply allowing them to ride because they do not want to deal with the complaints. This comment makes it seem as though roller coaster operators are held up at gunpoint by overweight patrons and have no choice but to allow them to ride. But if there are personnel who allow unfit riders to ride solely because they raise hell over being told otherwise, it is self-explanatory that personnel is irresponsible and unfit to be monitoring the safety of patrons at an amusement park. The job of the personnel is to ensure rider safety, not to negate it.

According to statistics compiled by the Amusement Safety Organization, Esparza’s death is just one of many repeatedly reported at Six Flags attractions across the nation –— it seems that the entire system has the same problem of incompetent, ill-trained personnel. If the amusement park chain persists to fail in both addressing this issue and putting an end to the death counts that continue to accumulate year after year, then it very well may also cease to operate in the near future.

Rojine Ariani is a sophomore majoring in international relations and political science.

Follow her on Twitter @RojineTAriani

7 replies
  1. James
    James says:

    As a flight attendant for over 20 years I can tell you that it is squarely Six Flag’s fault mostly for the reasons that this blog writer stated but one important factor is what was missing. The family’s attorney is most likely incorrect that the lap bar failed. As Six Flags stated there was no mechanical failure. With large people such as the victim in this case the lap bar must go underneath the roll of the belly even if the passenger must lift up/push in/scoot back in seat momentarily until the bar goes underneath the belly roll and can then be pushed down low and tight across the passenger’s hip BONES. However it is not the responsibility of the passenger to know this. Thus Six Flags should be held 100% liable for failure to teach this to it’s employees and failure to follow through on supervision to be sure that it was applied.

  2. dt
    dt says:

    The author of this article, I’d contend, has no real understanding of or experience in the amusement park industry.

    To enumerate the number of overstatements and falsities in this article would take more time than I have; however, I do wish to discuss a couple of key ones.

    I challenge the author to find any credible source (i.e. not some random CNN reporter whose goal, more often then not, is to make every story as sensational as possible) who agrees that Esparaza’s lapbar was “faulty.” The failure of a hydraulic lapbar, such as the one on Texas Giant is almost statistically impossible. There is zero evidence to suggest, beyond the hyperbole of the uninformed, that, in this specific case, Esparaza’s lapbar released or “came open” mid ride. On the contrary, all credible reports point to the roller coaster train in question returning to the station with Esparaza’s lapbar in the locked position.

    Now, while there has been some discussion of an indicator light having been faulty and replaced in Esparaza’s seat sometime prior to the accident, that is not at all the same as a faulty restraint. Firstly, the mere existence of a past repair in no way proves anything about the cause of this particular accident. (Machines, including automobiles, computers, etc., are repaired many times over the course of their useful lives, and a repair in no way renders the repaired machine a definite hazard.) Secondly, even if the indicator light were to have failed at the time of Esparaza’s death (which has not yet been proven), the indicator light is itself an auxiliary system that assists ride operators in their duties, but it in no way relates to the integrity of the lapbar itself. And furthermore, a faulty indicator light by no means “expos[es] inconsistencies and intermittent failures within various parts of the ride’s safety system.” The indicator light is, again, one small part of a much larger safety system, and there exist overlapping safety procedures to prevent the indicator light from being the sole obstacle to a horrendous accident.

    And by what logic does the author rule the ride operators “incompeten[t]?” As others have already commented, there are numerous other parties at play here (including the designer of the train, Grestlauer), and it seems rash, to me, to rule the ride operators at fault without any real supporting evidence. The causes of accidents are oftentimes fairly complex, involving the actions of multiple different parties rather than resting completely on the shoulders of one individual or that individual’s actions. I fail to see how, from the isolation of his / her computer chair, the author can deem Six Flags personnel uniformly “incompetent” and “Ill-trained.” Comments such as those merely further expose the author’s ignorance of the industry, including the extensive training Six Flags employees actually receive.

    As for the assertion that Esparaza’s death is “just one of many repeatedly reported at Six Flags attractions across the nation,” this is ludicrous, sensational journalism blather at its finest. The number non-prexisting condition related deaths (i.e. those not due to a preexisting heart condition, for example, for which the victim was wholly responsible) that have occurred at Six Flags parks over the past decade can be counted on one hand. When compared to the hundreds of millions of guests who have visited said Six Flags parks during that time period, this “death count” becomes perspectively infinitesimal.

    The fact is, excessive weight can and has been known to play a role in causing a particular rider to not fit properly within a particular ride’s “one size fits” all restraints. (For those who are interested, take a look at the Perilous Plunge incident at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2001.) Is it largely the responsibility of the ride operator(s) to ensure that a rider fits before allowing that rider to ride? Absolutely. And while I’d argue this is a shared responsibility with the rider (anyone who has been to an amusement park knows that there exists an abundance of posted riding instructions and safety guidelines, it being the riders’ duty to read these signs and ensure their compliance), I won’t go so far as to say Esparaza was at fault for her death. But are ride operators / manufacturers / designers reasonably expected to account for every outlying body type? When the number of possible body types is nearly infinite in number, I think not. If human foresight were that complete and perfect, there would be no problems in the world at all to speak of.

    In conclusion, I think it important to keep Esparaza’s death in perspective. For every amusement park related death, amusement parks have proven safe for millions of other guests. Amusement parks are statistically less dangerous than a whole host of other activities in which we participate regularly: driving, swimming, flying on a plane, etc. And yet, for every fatality resulting from a car crash, does the population suddenly take to the Internet publishing outlandish articles that decry automobiles as death traps designed and manufactured by mean, incompetent human beings? Of course not. The world is not perfect, and no activity is free of at least some degree of risk.

    I extend my deepest sympathies to Esparaza’s family and hope the amusement park industry can learn from this incident to ensure it never happens again. I can’t help but feel it a disservice to Esparaza’s memory, however, to engage–as did, I feel, the author of this article–in wild speculation and emotionally-driven finger pointing. This sort of pontificating does nothing for Esparaza, but it most certainly and unjustly disparages a whole host of innocent people who are trying to make a living and do good through the amusement park industry. Who really benefits from that?

  3. Jason
    Jason says:

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that it was properly designed. I certainly didn’t. What’s being argued is that it operated as designed. That doesn’t mean it was designed properly. That’s why I say the responsibility falls to the Manufacturer. Of course Six Flags will be involved in the suit. But, I still have to go back to what I stated above, if the ride wasn’t being maintained and operated per the manufacturers guidelines, it would be Six Flags fault. If it was being maintained and operated per the manufacturers guidelines and the ride performed as designed, then it would be the manufacturers fault for a bad design.

    If my car explodes due to a manufacturer defect, should I be responsible for injuries it causes?

    Six flags hired professional engineers to deliver a safe ride. How was Six Flags supposed to know the restraint wouldn’t accommodate her?

    • ras
      ras says:

      Your car analogy does not have parity with the rollercoaster scenario.

      This is more like if a car manufacturer designed a tour bus and it turns out the seat belts have a design oversight where it does not fit properly for a reasonably wide range of body types. Then one day while on a tour, the tour company bus driver was involved in a collision (not caused by the bus driver, but a accident nonetheless). In that collision, most of the riders were ok but an obese person was thrown out of his seat and dies as a result of injuries. The family of the fat dead man has a legal cause to sue the bus manufacturer AND the bus tour company. The argument against the bus tour company is that a company that makes its money off such a critical piece of equipment, also needs to have their own safety measures in place to ensure a reasonable safe operating procedure.

      A few years ago when it was discovered Toyota cars were experiencing brake failures, many car rental places immediately pulled Toyotas off their fleet – even before the official Toyota recall. the companies understood – even though they are not in the business of designing and manufacturing cars – they only rent them – that they could be also held liable for making business out of a faulty piece of equipment.

  4. Jason
    Jason says:

    There’s a difference between being maintained properly and designed properly. If it wasn’t being maintained properly, it would be Six Flags fault. If it was being maintained properly and the ride performed as designed, then it would be the manufacturers fault. Six Flags didn’t design or manufacturer the ride. Nor, did they establish the procedures for operating the ride. Gerstlauer did. They are manufacturer and it seems to me that they would be the biggest one responsible here if the restraint performed as designed.

    • ras
      ras says:

      Your analysis is not entirely correct. Regardless who manufactures the ride, a ride is being SOLD to the public by Six Flags. Any rider who sustains injuries (or death in this case) can take action against Six Flags (as well as Gerstlauer). It is possible Six Flags may take action against Gerstlauer as well.

      The fact a human being died means it is a fool’s errand to even argue that the restraint was properly designed. Any engineer worth his salt needs to anticipate a wide range of body types for something like a roller coaster ride. Does this mean this ride is also unsafe for a 5’2″ male who weighs 200 lbs? That is ridiculous. If indeed Gerstlauer’s or Six Flags argument is that the ride is unsafe for someone – male or female – that fit that body description should be considered negligent right off the bat.

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