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Cassara Family's Lawsuit Against New York's Playland Settled for $1.25 Million: Sufficient Staffing Part of Operating Amusement Parks Safely

By Admin on March 24, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A tentative settlement of $1.25 million has been reached in the lawsuit brought against Westchester County, New York, by parents of a 7-year-old boy killed in an amusement park ride accident. The Playland amusement park was noteably featured in the Tom Hanks film "Big" and the ride at issue was an 80 year old ride with no prior history of fatalities.

The child's parents, Robert and Elayne Cassara of Norwalk, Connecticut brought the suit against the county, which operates the amusement park, and the AP summarized the circumstances of the accident:

"The boy was on Playland's Ye Old Mill ride, in which boats move gently in the dark through scenes populated by gnomes and trolls. He got out of his boat soon after the indoor ride started. He somehow ended up in its channel of water, dead from a blunt head injury."

Apparently, officials in the case conceded that the ride was not adequately staffed, which can open up the door to liability in a negligence lawsuit such as the one in the Cassara's case. Amusement and water parks are regulated to varying degrees at the state and local level (portable amusement rides have federal oversight), and common law negligence principles may apply where there are no specific laws. In the case of New York, the state does regulate and oversee amusement parks. For example, under the state's laws on amusement park rides:

"An operator shall be in the immediate vicinity of the operating controls during operation and no other person shall be suffered or permitted to handle such controls during normal operation. No operator shall be responsible for the operation of more than one amusement device at a time."

Another AP story also detailed testimony about how the park's own policy "called for at least three workers on Ye Old Mill, in which boats move gently in the dark through scenes populated by gnomes and trolls" and how "[t]here were only two workers when Jon-Kely Cassara" got on the ride. Regardless, even though regulations and policies will vary from state to state and park to park, adequate staffing and proper training of staff are common elements in the safe operation of an amusement park.

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