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Court Rules on California Water Park Accident Claim

Many people in California enjoy going to amusement parks and waterslides. When people are injured on a ride or waterslide, they may have grounds to recover damages through personal injury lawsuits. However, it has previously been unclear the type of duty owed by the operator of a waterslide to its customers and whether operating a waterslide should be viewed as offering a service or offering a product. In Sharufa v. Festival Fun Parks, Cal. Ct. App. Case No. H044064, the appeals court considered these questions when it handled an appeal from a summary judgment order in a claim for injuries related to a waterslide accident.[1]

Factual and procedural background

Sean Sharufa went to a theme park called Raging Waters that was operated by Festival Fun Parks. While there, he went down a waterslide on an inner tube. During his descent down the slide, he fell out of the inner tube and onto his stomach. When he hit the splash pool at the bottom of the slide, his feet hit the bottom of the pool with sufficient force to break his pelvis and hip.

Sharufa filed a lawsuit against Festival Fun Parks, alleging claims of negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and product liability. Festival Fun Parks filed a motion for summary judgment. At the hearing, Sharufa presented the opinion of an engineer that going down the waterslide on the stomach would cause a person to enter the water at a much higher velocity than sliding down on the back. However, the engineer was not qualified as an expert by the court. The trial court entered an order granting Festival Fun Park’s motion for summary judgment on the negligence and products liability claim but allowed the negligent misrepresentation claim to proceed. Sharufa dismissed the negligent misrepresentation claim so that he could file an appeal. He subsequently appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the negligence and product liability claims.

Issues: 1) Whether the operator of a water slide is a common carrier that owes a higher duty of care? 2) Whether a water slide operator is offering a service or the use of a product?

Sharufa appealed the dismissal of the negligence and product liability causes of action. For the negligence cause of action, he argued that the operator of a waterslide owes a higher duty of care than the duty of care required under ordinary negligence claims as a common carrier. He also argued that the operator of a waterslide is offering the use of a product to customers rather than a service, making the operator potentially liable in a product liability claim. Festival Fun Parks argued that waterslide operators are not common carriers and owe a duty of care that is lower because customers assume the inherent risks of waterslides when they use them. It also argued that the operator of a waterslide offers a service to customers rather than the use of a product, making the product liability claim fail.

Rules: 1) Common carriers owe the utmost duty of care to people they transport to ensure safe carriage. 2) All parties included in the chain of distribution are strictly liable when defects in their products cause injuries to consumers who use them as intended. However, product liability does not reach parties who are offering a service to consumers instead of the use of a defective product.

Everyone owes an ordinary duty of care to act with the same degree of caution as a reasonably prudent person to prevent injuries to others. However, common carriers owe a heightened duty of care to people they transport for money under Cal. Civ. Code § 2100.[2] Common carriers have traditionally included buses, taxis, and other similar modes of transportation. However, the definition has been expanded to include amusement park rides. For the negligence claim, the question is whether the waterslide is similar to an amusement park ride in how it operates, prompting the higher standard of care required of common carriers.

For product liability claims, all of the parties involved in the chain of distribution of a defective product are liable when people use the products in the manner in which they were intended to be used. However, this liability does not include parties that are simply providing a service to customers. Festival Fun Parks argued that it only provided a service to its waterslide customers and thus could not be liable under a theory of product liability.

Analysis

The appeals court began by analyzing the negligence claim and whether or not an amusement park operator is a common carrier. To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care and breached the duty, resulting in his or her injuries. The existence of a breach will depend on the duty of care that is owed by the defendant. Sharufa argued that the operator of a waterslide is a common carrier and holds the utmost duty of care to the people who ride on it. Festival Fun Parks argued that the operator of a waterslide owes a lower duty of care than ordinary negligence because people who ride on waterslides assume the inherent risks of injuries.

The court noted that California courts had not previously determined whether the operator of a waterslide qualifies as a common carrier. Under Cal. Civ. Code § 2168, common carriers are defined as those that offer to carry property, people, or messages.[3] The court noted that the definition of common carriers had been expanded by the courts to include elevators, escalators, lifts, and operators of roller coaster rides. The court noted that roller coaster operators are common carriers because they are entrusted with the safety of the people who ride on the roller coasters and the people do not have control of the ride. The court then determined that a waterslide operator is a common carrier and subject to the utmost duty of care. Because of finding that a waterslide operator is a common carrier, the court found that the assumption of the risk doctrine did not apply. However, the court found that Sharufa had failed to present evidence that Festival Fun Parks had engaged in any conduct to breach the standard of care, so it found that the negligence cause of action should be dismissed.

The court then looked at the product liability claim to determine whether Festival Fun parks was offering the use of a product or was providing a service. The court found that if the customers of the water park paid the admission fee to use the waterslide, product liability would apply. However, if guests paid the admissions fee to obtain services that might include using the waterslides, it would not apply. The court found that the record was insufficient to determine the services that were offered by Raging Waters. It said that while the park might offer other services, additional facts would be needed to determine whether those services were ancillary to the use of the waterslides. The court found that the trial court should not have granted summary adjudication to Festival Fun Parks on the product liability cause of action.

Conclusion

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary adjudication on the negligence cause of action but reversed its decision on the product liability cause of action. The case was returned to the trial court for further proceedings. The appeals court also ordered that Sharufa should recover his costs on appeal.

Get help from an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles

If you have been injured while riding on an amusement park ride or a waterslide, you may have legal rights to recover compensation. Contact an experienced product liability and personal injury lawyer at the Steven M. Sweat Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation by calling us at 866.966.5240.

Sources

[1] https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2020/h044064.html?utm_source=summary-newsletters&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2020-05-29-personal-injury-fa96806c55&utm_content=text-case-title-5

[2] https://casetext.com/statute/california-codes/california-civil-code/division-3-obligations/part-4-obligations-arising-from-particular-transactions/title-7-carriage/chapter-2-carriage-of-persons/article-2-carriage-for-reward/section-2100-duty-of-care#:~:text=A%20carrier%20of%20persons%20for,a%20reasonable%20degree%20of%20skill.

[3] https://law.justia.com/codes/california/2005/civ/2168-2178.html#:~:text=Common%20Carriers%20in%20General,-CIVIL%20CODE&text=(2168.)&text=Every%20one%20who%20offers%20to,he%20thus%20offers%20to%20carry.

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