Scooters in crowded Disney World parks cause crashes, chases and dazzling – news – the Ledger

Early on entering Magic Kingdom, it’s another fun day about to start as “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me!” loudspeaker explosions and the first electric scooters are lined up to go.

But by the time the park officially opens at 9 a.m., half of the scooters available for the day are already rented to anyone 18 or older willing to pay $ 50 a day. Other visitors to the park pass through the turnstiles on motorized scooters that they have rented outside the parks or that they own themselves.

“Will the scooters run out? Asks a woman who looks worried. They usually left at 11 a.m., a Disney employee told him with an apologetic smile.

Scooters are as visible in Disney parks as Mickey Mouse ears and turkey thighs, and they are a lifeline for people, some with hidden disabilities, who cannot walk the huge grounds. But amid the rapidly growing Disney crowds, the vehicles have led to an increase in civil lawsuits from people complaining of being run over or drivers claiming to have been injured in crashes.

Disney recently banned oversized strollers, but when it comes to scooters, the theme park is limited in how it can regulate them due to federal disability rights law.

Scooters enjoy the same protections under the law as wheelchairs, said Kenneth Shiotani, senior attorney at the National Disability Rights Network. This means that Disney – or any other company – cannot ban them outright, although theme parks can potentially add rules like a speed limit or ban them on a particularly narrow path, if there is any danger. real and documented, Shiotani said.

He added that such a rule would likely require approval from the US Department of Justice.

“People need to realize that ‘disability’ is broadly defined,” said Shiotani, adding that anyone who can only walk a few steps or even a few blocks is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“People use (scooters) because they need them,” he said of parks, like Epcot, which is big enough to accommodate a 5K around.

Disney rents them out and outside companies cater to tourists by dropping commendables into their hotels. The devices, which have three and four wheels, typically travel a few miles per hour.

“We expect customers to ride (the scooters) with safety and courtesy in mind by being responsible and respectful of other customers while enjoying our parks,” said Disney spokesperson Erica Ettori. .

The popularity of scooters comes as baby boomers – Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – age rapidly and suffer from persistent health problems that can develop with age. By 2029, more than 20% of the total United States population will be over 65, according to the US Census Bureau.

It’s a generation that was “brought up by going to Disney theme parks.” They’re not going to give up, ”blogger and theme park historian Jim Hill said. “They’re the ones who are praising these things because they don’t want to slow down.”

The mouse goes to court

In 2018, at least 11 lawsuits were filed alleging scooter injuries at Disney, the highest number in the past five years, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the Orange Circuit litigation. Typically, about two to three lawsuits were filed each year from 2014 to 2017.

So far in 2019, at least four lawsuits mentioning Disney scooters have already been filed in Orange County.

Disney declined to comment, but said the number of lawsuits was low compared to the millions of people who visit theme parks each year.

Zachery Corn, a tourist from Tennessee, said he was cut off by a scooter from behind during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in 2017, according to one of the lawsuits filed in 2018 and whose lawsuit is scheduled for March 2020.

“He never saw the guy coming,” said his lawyer David Heil, who has noticed more calls coming into his scooter law firm since about mid-2017 and into 2018.

Other times, it is the scooter riders who chase after.

Eugene Teto, 62, said he felt like he was driving his scooter blind as he walked down the ramp to get off the monorail. Still, he was following proper Disney protocol as instructed by theme park employees, the Connecticut man said in court documents. The lawsuit called the policy “far-fetched”.

“Eugene felt his (scooter) start to tip backwards, then – suddenly – he rocked violently backwards, slamming Eugene’s head on the concrete platform and twisting his neck with a way nature never intended, ”said the lawsuit he filed in 2018 after his surgery to repair his spine.

Susan Purcell, who suffers from asthma, was sitting on her scooter that she had brought home on a Disney bus. The bus driver stepped on the accelerator at a yellow light and made a sharp turn, which overturned her scooter and threw her on the floor of the bus, according to her lawsuit.

“As soon as the driver stopped the bus, the passengers stood up to try and help Ms Purcell,” according to the lawsuit filed in March. “But Mrs Purcell was stuck in the seat of her (scooter) and no one was able to free her or lift the (scooter) upright. Ms Purcell lay helpless and trapped on the floor of the bus until the firefighters finally arrived.

Other major theme parks are not immune to similar litigation, either.

SeaWorld Orlando was sued last month by a mother who says her son was hit by a scooter while walking in the park last year.

However, neither Universal nor SeaWorld appear to have faced increasing litigation like Disney did in 2018.

Of the new lawsuits filed in 2018 and 2019, the majority are still pending, including those of Teto and Purcell. But not at all.

A woman who sued last year after saying she was hit by a scooter at Hollywood studios voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit in December. The woman and Disney had to pay their own legal fees, according to court documents.

Other cases have resulted in settlements over the years, including a man who settled with Disney in October after he said he broke his femur when a scooter slammed into him and pinned him against the large stones inside the Splash Mountain queue in 2013. Settlement amounts are not disclosed in court documents.

Cases have escalated as Disney attendance continues to rise and is unlikely to drop anytime soon with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening this year and Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration approaching in 2021.

After Pandora opened at Animal Kingdom in May 2017, park attendance jumped nearly 15% to around 12.5 million that year. Almost 20.5 million people also passed through Magic Kingdom in 2017, according to the latest available estimates from a Themed Entertainment Association / AECOM report.

How the problems start

What annoys Craig Belke is Disney’s darts jumping in front of him as he carefully tucks his scooter, trying to keep a gap between himself and the person in front of him.

Then the insult gets worse. The person who cut him turns around and tells him to be more careful.

“It’s like, are you kidding me?” She ran in front of me, then she yelled at me? Belke said.

Skirmishes with scooters often occur because pedestrians are in vacation mode and sucked into the busy atmosphere of a theme park. They just don’t care, Belke said.

He calls himself a good driver, although he has also seen less good ones.

“Some people have no idea what they’re doing with scooters,” Belke said.

A New York woman said that “two very young children” were behind the wheel of a scooter that crushed her foot at the Magic Kingdom, according to a 2016 lawsuit that was then voluntarily dismissed in August 2017.

For Belke, his scooter is a godsend.

He used to be “in terrible agony” from his back pain on the third day of his family vacation to Disney.

Belke, 64, worked in physical jobs for decades in a volunteer fire department and with machinery in a New Jersey school district.

He hated the idea of ​​using a wheelchair, forcing his wife to push him, making him feel helpless.

He gave in. He rented a scooter. It was three years ago. Now he won’t go to a theme park without one.

“It turned out to be one of the best trips I have ever taken. I was no longer in pain, ”Belke said.

Judging area

Amanda Koolis noticed the dirty looks when she visited Disneyland in February.

“I can’t tell you how many stares I get,” said Koolis, 31.

But the people who judge her don’t know she has multiple sclerosis. The autoimmune disease causes his body to attack itself mainly, causing sharp shooting pains and even partial paralysis.

Like everything in life, there are people who can abuse the system and rent scooters just because they don’t feel like riding, Koolis admits.

On the other hand, what about others like her? His disability is not visible to the outside world and without scooters, theme parks would be prohibited.

Koolis feels the Disney magic of being in a fantasy world, away from the stress of his health issues, even if only for a few hours.

“Having access to something like Disney is huge,” Koolis said.

An endless battle

How can scooters exist more harmoniously amid the growing crowds at Disney?

Lawyer David Heil argues that scooter drivers need more instruction before they are “let down” behind the wheel in parks.

A spokeswoman for Disney said park workers give instructions to scooter drivers, and the four outside scooter vendors who work closely with Disney are providing written instructions to drivers.

Hill, the Disney historian, dismisses the idea of ​​scooter lanes, saying it would open Disney to bad publicity and more lawsuits for separate but equal access.

Already, Hill has said Disney is taking steps to alleviate the situation in order to free up space.

At Epcot, Disney plans to move the tiles of guest faces that are displayed on granite monoliths, which will widen the trails at the front of the park, Hill said.

Disney also spreads attendance throughout the year by charging more for the busiest days during vacations and school vacations, a company spokesperson said of the company’s attempts to reduce traffic congestion. .

Still, the situation doesn’t have easy answers, said George Pugliese, 56, a Disney enthusiast who bought a scooter after undergoing surgery on both knees. He said he felt trapped one night after the fireworks display and had to put his scooter aside and wait for the crowds to clear.

People like him will always need scooters. Others will always complain about them – until one day they become unable to walk and have to rent one themselves, he said.

“It will be a never-ending battle,” Pugliese said. “There is no solution.”

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Herman C. Harkins

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