Civil Lawsuit in Workers’ Compensation Case Allowed to Continue
A Circuit Court judge denied Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit brought by the widow of a worker who died while testing a ride at the resort’s Animal Kingdom. This lawsuit is one of the rare cases where the court found that the protections given to employers in workers’ compensation cases do not apply.
Facts of the Case
The lawsuit was filed in 2012 by Terrie Roscoe, the widow of Walt Disney World worker Russell Roscoe, 52. Mr. Roscoe died in 2011 after he was struck by a ride vehicle during the testing of an Animal Kingdom ride, Primeval Whirl. According to the complaint, Mr. Roscoe and other workers were “wet testing” the ride. Water was sprayed from the top of a platform while workers inspected brake systems and other aspects of the ride.
Disney workers launched one of the ride vehicles while Mr. Roscoe was in the “ride envelope,” an area close to the tracks of the ride where a person can be injured or killed. He was working on a part of the ride called the “Little Dip.” When the vehicle was launched it struck Mr. Roscoe in the head and caused a massive head injury. One of Mr. Roscoe’s co-workers called 911 and told dispatchers “We need somebody right now. One of our maintenance guys got hit by a moving vehicle…He got in the way of a moving vehicle.”
His co-workers attempted to give first aid until emergency workers arrived. Voices on the 911 call can be heard trying to keep Mr. Roscoe conscious until they could get help. Mr. Roscoe was airlifted from the Animal Kingdom to the Orlando Regional Medical Center but sadly died the next day.
Response from Disney
Disney described the ride as a “mild” roller coaster, and the company had no idea why Mr. Roscoe was behind Gate 8 when the accident occurred. Attorneys for Walt Disney said that he should have not been back there during ride testing. Furthermore, they argued in its response to the complaint that the Roscoe family was already entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. According to the law, workers’ compensation shields an employer from any type of civil liability from the employee.
Florida Workers’ Compensation Law
In 2003, the Florida legislature created a high bar to overturn employer immunity from civil lawsuits in workers’ compensation cases. Section 440.11 of Florida law states that workers’ compensation liability “shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability, including vicarious liability, of such employer to any third-party tortfeasor and to the employee, the legal representative thereof, husband or wife, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from such employer at law or in admiralty on account of such injury or death.”
However, an employer does not receive immunity from civil liability if “the employer engaged in conduct that the employer knew, based on prior similar accidents or on explicit warnings specifically identifying a known danger, was virtually certain to result in injury or death to the employee, and the employee was not aware of the risk because the danger was not apparent and the employer deliberately concealed or misrepresented the danger so as to prevent the employee from exercising informed judgment about whether to perform the work.”
Ruling of the Court
The circuit court in this case ruled that there were material issues of fact in the case of Mr. Roscoe’s death. There was enough evidence presented by Mrs. Roscoe to show that the managers of the ride were aware that Mr. Roscoe was in an unsafe location. In addition, Mr. Roscoe didn’t believe that a ride vehicle would be launched while he was in the ride envelope.
The judge in this case believed that Mrs. Roscoe has met the burden to overcome the employer immunity that comes with most workers’ compensation cases. While it does not guarantee a victory in civil court, the ruling does allow the case to proceed against Walt Disney for additional civil liability.
The attorney for Mrs. Roscoe told the media that “I think that the good news is Mrs. Roscoe is now going to get to have her day in court. I think the best thing at this point she can do to honor the memory of her husband is to see justice done. Now it will be. This case will be in the hands of a jury now, and the jury will get to make the final decision on the facts and the evidence.”
Instances of Injury at Disney
This is not the first time that a worker has been injured at a Walt Disney World Park, nor is it the first injury to a worker on this particular ride. In November 2007, another worker was killed while working on Primeval Whirl. Karen Price, 63, was working on an elevator rider loading platform on the ride when she was struck by one of the ride vehicles. She died five days later at the hospital from her injuries.
The Florida Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) looked into the accident involving Ms. Price and found multiple violations of worker safety, fining the Walt Disney Corporation $21,000. After the death of Ms. Price, the company renovated the Primeval Whirl ride and installed sensors to prevent a similar accident from happening in the same area of the ride again. After the probe into Mr. Roscoe’s death, OSHA fined the Walt Disney Parks again for $47,250 for violations of worker safety.
Contact a Florida Workers’ Compensation Attorney
While most workers’ compensation cases are limited to the benefits provided by the system, in some instances the employer can be held liable in civil court, as well. If your or a loved one has been injured in a workplace accident in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, or the West Palm Beach, reach out to The Pendas Law Firm. Our skilled workers’ compensation attorneys are prepared to assist you today.