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Jury Sides With Disney in Roller Coaster Injury Suit

Wisconsin surgeon contended he had been hurt because of shoddy maintenance on a shoulder restraint at California Adventure.

March 02, 2004|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

After deliberating for a little more than two hours, an Orange County jury rejected a Milwaukee surgeon's contention that faulty maintenance at Disney's California Adventure led to a debilitating injury.

Dr. David Heber filed the negligence lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. after allegedly suffering injuries while riding the California Screamin' roller coaster in August 2001.

Heber contended that a shoulder-harness restraint failed because it was not properly lubricated by Disney mechanics.

He said he was violently shaken and jolted during the ride and was later diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, which rendered him unable to do his job. He was asking for $10 million in damages.

But Monday, after a nearly six-week trial in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, the six-man, six-woman jury returned the verdict in Disney's favor.

"The jury found that the maintenance procedures followed on California Screamin' were safe and effective," said Kyle Kirwan, Disney's attorney.

Disney issued a statement Monday that the company is "pleased the jury found in our favor and determined the plaintiff's allegations were without merit."

Heber's attorney, Marc Feldman, could not be reached for comment.

Feldman had suggested that Heber's injury and the incident on California Screamin' were an example of shoddy maintenance at the Disneyland Resort.

The trial began not long after the release of a state report on the fatal September crash on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In that report, state investigators faulted workers for not following the park's maintenance procedures.

But in a hearing before the trial, a judge prohibited Feldman from using the state report and mentioning the Big Thunder Mountain crash.

Disney officials have said the two incidents are not linked because they occurred at different parks in different years.

Before the trial, a park spokesman had called Heber's allegations "a shameful attempt to try to capitalize on a very unfortunate tragedy."

During the trial, Feldman argued that the restraints on California Screamin' were not being lubricated according to the specifications set by the ride manufacturer.

Disney's attorney said the restraints did not need to be oiled because they are self-lubricating. Disney also tried to recreate the restraint failure by intentionally sabotaging it but were unable to duplicate it.

In addition, Heber had a significant medical history -- including degenerative spine problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, ailments that he suffered before riding on California Screamin'.

Heber also did not complain to ride operators or guest services after getting off the two-minute ride and did not file a claim with the park, Disney's attorney said.

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