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Disneyland Ride Victim Loses Lawsuit : Jury Rules Against Man Injured in Space Mountain Accident

March 08, 1985|STEVE TRIPOLI | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for just several hours Thursday before finding that Disneyland was not liable for injuries suffered by a Quartz Hill man in a 1983 accident on the park's Space Mountain ride.

Jurors voted 9 to 3 in favor of the Anaheim park and against plaintiff James Higgins, 18, whose attorneys had claimed that a defective design caused their client to be ejected from the ride.

Higgins, who was left partially paralyzed and with some brain damage in the accident, had testified during the trial that he must use braces to stand and has to hold on to something in order to walk. He had asked for $3.3 million for medical and other costs, plus damages.

Higgins, who sat in a wheelchair next to his attorneys throughout the nine-day trial, said Thursday that the verdict "shocked me," adding that the suit probably would be pursued further.

Allen Millstone, one of Higgins' attorneys, said he is "pretty sure" there will be an appeal.

Disneyland attorney W. Mike McCray said that jurors "just didn't find we did anything wrong," adding that the jurors may have believed that Higgins fell from the car after standing up, despite written and verbal warnings not to do so.

Higgins' attorneys had claimed that a ring-type restraining lap bar, in use on the ride at the time of the accident, was defectively designed and could have allowed a rider to remove it. The device has since been replaced by a T-shaped bar.

A physicist who testified for Higgins said the lap bar appeared to be defectively designed, but on cross-examination he said that gravity probably would keep a rider who was following instructions in the car even if the bar were raised.

Jurors last week took a trip to Space Mountain, a high-speed, indoor, roller coaster-type ride that runs a three-minute course mostly in pitch dark. Several of the ride's cars were trucked to the Santa Ana Courthouse Tuesday for a demonstration of the safety mechanism.

Two jurors who stood outside Judge James Smith's courtroom after the verdict declined interviews with reporters, but one of them told McCray, "The thing that helped (their decision) was our seeing everything and going to Disneyland."

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