Scooters in crowded Disney World parks cause crashes

Orlando – Early on entering Magic Kingdom it’s another fun day about to start like “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me!” loudspeaker explosions and the first four-wheeled electric mobility 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.

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.

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.”

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.

In 2019, at least four lawsuits mentioning Disney scooters were 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 in a way that nature never wanted, ”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.

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

Heil, the lawyer, argues that scooter riders 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.

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Herman C. Harkins

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