Lawyer says Colorado waiver law prevents safety improvements
State law limits legal options for amusement park riders
A Roaring Fork Valley attorney said Colorado law has “no teeth” when it comes to enforcing inspections of amusement rides.
Basalt-based attorney Beth Klein is experienced in malpractice law. She said on Friday the Haunted Mine Drop, the Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park ride involved in the recent death of 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos, passed every inspection since opening in 2017. The inspections were conducted by a subsection of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and a third party — most recently by Worldwide Safety Group, Inc.
No deficiencies were noted in the documents made publicly available by the state. Inspections, however, can still be passed despite any citations of deficiency.
Klein said when a deficiency is reported, the organization cited must fix it within 30 days of the citation. If the organization chooses not to, the next inspection — which is usually annual — becomes more stringent, she said.
Meanwhile, any potential for legal recourse in relation to Estifanos’ death, who died while on the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park on Sunday, is subject to Colorado law.
Support Local Journalism
Since the incident is still under investigation, it is not definitively clear as to what caused Estifanos, who was vacationing with family from Colorado Springs, to suffer a fatal injury while riding the Haunted Mine Drop. The ride rapidly descends from 110 feet in less than 3 seconds. Riders must be at least 46 inches tall to ride the Haunted Mine Drop, according to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park website.
According to Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire, the forensic pathologist identified multiple blunt-force injuries.
But according to Denver-based attorney Michael Burg, who is a founding shareholder at national law firm Burg Simpson and one of America’s leading trial lawyers, individuals and companies are essentially shielded from litigation when anyone signs a waiver before engaging in recreational activities. When a waiver is signed, any claim for negligence is released.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park requires all parties to sign a waiver prior to riding.
In February 2015, Burg represented a client who was seriously injured while riding the Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Burg argued unsuccessfully in court that inadequate lighting and camera security caused his client to collide with stalled cars on the ride track and break her back.
“The cars at the time didn’t have lights on them — they didn’t have headlights, they didn’t have rear lights,” Burg said. “It was very dark out and there was no way you could see the cars in front of you.”
The case was dismissed by the judge since Burg’s client signed a waiver prior to entering the amusement park, he said.
According to information sent from Klein, in 2002 the Colorado Supreme Court held that parents could not sign away the rights of a child to sue. Colorado Senate Bill 253 was signed into law by former Gov. Bill Owens on May 14, 2003, in response to this ruling. Because of this statutory law it is legal in Colorado for parents to release their minor’s rights to sue for negligence.
In addition to Colorado’s release law for minors, Burg said Colorado is one of the few states where laws governing wrongful death claims have a cap limit on financial damages.
“We don’t need that cap. Other states don’t have it.”
Klein also noted that “noneconomic losses includes past and future ‘grief, loss of companionship, impairment of the quality of life, inconvenience, pain and suffering, and emotional stress a plaintiff (and all those plaintiff represents)’ has experienced and will experience. Under Colorado law, the limit for noneconomic damages is $571,870.
Burg said not having these laws in place not only keeps any families from reaching compensation but improvements in safety can’t be made.
“We’ve got to make sure this sort of thing never happens again,” he said. “Right now, there’s no incentive.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org