The Supreme Court of Missouri Splashes with Precedent in Waterslide Injury Case

By Krispin, Joe | Missouri Law Review, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

The Supreme Court of Missouri Splashes with Precedent in Waterslide Injury Case


Krispin, Joe, Missouri Law Review


Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP, 450 S.W.3d 291 (Mo. 2014) (en banc).

I. INTRODUCTION

Amusement park rides generally offer patrons a fill for their thrill-seeking desires. In addition to roller coasters and spinning wheels, a popular ride during the summer months is the waterslide. Waterslides come in sizes appropriate for all ages, but some modem day waterslides have reached extraordinary heights, some reaching over eight stories high. (1)

As the slides grow taller, the importance of operator care and prudence also becomes greater. Water sliders place their lives in the hands of water park operators as they allow their bodies to descend freely down a slick slide, propelled along by rushing water. Not only are operators in total control of the rate at which the water propels patrons down the slides, but they are also in control of the implementation of safety warnings, safety harnesses, and other detailed factors that contribute to the water slide's overall safety. Patrons expect the waterpark operators to exercise enough caution and care to ensure their safety as they plummet down the plastic flume with minimal control over their bodies' movements.

Many waterslides come in different shapes and sizes, but a legal question remains about the appropriate standard of care to which water park slide operators should be held. Nearly a century ago, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that when determining the appropriate standard of care to which amusement park operators should be held, courts should consider the particular circumstances surrounding the amusement. (2) Subsequently, courts held that some situations required the operator to exercise merely ordinary care; other situations, particularly situations in which the operator exercised complete control over an amusement park ride, required the application of the highest degree of care. (3)

In 2014, the Supreme Court of Missouri shook up this area of law in Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP. (4) The court appeared to abandon the original and longstanding method of reviewing the particular circumstances surrounding the amusement park ride and replaced it with a seemingly per se rule that amusement park operators need to exercise only ordinary care. (5) This decision is sure to change the outlook of personal injury cases involving large and dangerous amusement park rides.

This Note reviews the legal history of amusement park operator liability in Missouri, discusses the application of that law to a recent incident involving a young girl injured at a Kansas City waterpark, and analyzes the various applications of the law made by the Supreme Court of Missouri, the Missouri Court of Appeals, and the dissenting Supreme Court of Missouri judges. This Note concludes by discussing relevant public policy concerns.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

Twelve-year-old Jessica Chavez was enjoying a summer afternoon with her family at Kansas City's Oceans of Fun Water Park in 2000. (6) Chavez and her family decided to ride down Hurricane Falls, a giant water slide in which four riders share a circular raft and descend down the 680-foot flume. (7) The only safety feature on the raft was a nylon strap that ran across portions of the top of the tube. (8) Additionally, there was no way for patrons to control the raft as it proceeded down the slide. (9) The raft's descent was affected by several variables, including the raft's rotation, the contact made with the walls of the slide, and "the contour of the layout of the ride." (10) Expectant mothers, patrons with spinal, muscular, or skeletal issues, and persons shorter than forty-six inches tall were cautioned not to ride this water slide. (11)

After receiving a verbal instruction to "hold onto the straps at all times," Jessica Chavez and her family descended together down the large waterslide on their raft. (12) As the raft made the final turn, Chavez's mouth and her cousin's head collided, causing Chavez to bleed and lose a tooth. …

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