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5 Business Lessons From Disney Lawsuits

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Iconic American theme park Disneyland opened 59 years ago today.

And as you might imagine, over the last six decades, Disneyland and its parent corporation Disney have been involved in a fair amount of litigation, from personal injury lawsuits to intellectual property disputes.

Here are five lessons your business can learn from Disney's long legal history:

  1. The majority of cases are dismissed or settle out of court. Over a five-year period between 2007 and 2012, Disney was named in nearly 140 personal injury lawsuits for injuries allegedly suffered at Disney's California theme parks. Of the relatively few of those cases that weren't dismissed or settled, Disney lost just one jury trial over that period, for a women who was hit in the head by a food-court umbrella blown over by the wind.
  2. Seemingly minor injuries can cause major legal headaches. Many of the cases brought against Disney, including some of the cases that have been settled out of court, stem from incidents that may seem relatively minor. For example, one man sued Disney after a server allegedly poured coffee on his arm. More recently, a disabled man who was stuck on the park's "It's a Small World" ride for 30 minutes was awarded $8,000 by a federal judge.
  3. When not to apply for a trademark. Although Disney has many incredibly valuable trademarks and other forms of intellectual property, the company has also occasionally made a misstep when applying for trademark protection. Case in point: Last year, Disney withdrew an application to trademark "Dia de los Muertos," a Mexican holiday that translates as Day of the Dead. The company is apparently developing an animated feature inspired by the holiday, but dropped the trademark filing after widespread opposition and accusations of cultural exploitation.
  4. Businesses must provide reasonable accommodations to the disabled. Disneyland has faced several lawsuits for allegedly failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to provide "reasonable accommodations" to those with disabilities. A 2012 federal case involving Disneyland took that rule one step further, finding that business owners also must take "reasonable steps" to making disabled patrons' experiences "more akin to that enjoyed by its able-bodied patrons." In Disneyland's case, this meant that the part could not prohibit a disabled woman from using a Segway inside the park.
  5. Businesses must also provide reasonable accommodations for employees' religious practices. Disney also faced a lawsuit from a Muslim employee who claimed the company refused to let her wear a head scarf as required by her religion. Federal law requires employers provide "reasonable accommodations" for employee's religious practices unless doing so would cause undue hardship on the employer.

Congratulations to Disneyland for 59 years of being open for business, even if it's not always necessarily the "happiest place on earth."

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