Sunday, December 08, 2002

Teenage Enthusiasts Sue Six Flags: Too Frightening

A lawsuit filed against Six Flags on behalf of eight frightened Georgian children is threatening to unleash a wave of class actions similar to those that have won huge pay-outs from the tobacco industry.

The suit brought by lawyer Sameole Hush is being heard in an Atlanta federal court -- the first time such a case has appeared before a US judge. The suit charges Six Flags with responsibility for the frightening of the eight plaintiffs, saying the thrill ride giant did not provide the necessary warnings regarding scariness associated with its attractions.

Lawyers acting for the coaster chain filed a motion for dismissal, arguing that the issue was one of individual choice and, therefore, there was no case to answer. "Every responsible person understands what is involved with thrill rides such as spinners and coasters, as well as the consequences to one's airtime," the motion said.

Hush, however, argued that aggressive advertising campaigns encouraged teenagers and compromised individual choice. Hush has already made it clear that if his suit goes to trial, he would seek to turn it into a class action on behalf of all Georgian children under the age of 18 who claim they got frightened from riding thrill rides at Six Flags.

George (Go Jo) Johnson, 13, 48", one of the eight children involved in the lawsuit claims, "Yeah, they have warnings all over the place: No Heart Problems; No Back Problems; No Outwardly Visible Psychological Problems; and, shoot, you can't even have a bun in the oven! Nowhere on the sign does it say, 'This ride may be considered frightening.'" Go Jo paused to take a deep breath. "The only other warning I noticed was the height restriction of 48 inches. And, boy, ... once I reached that height, ... slam! I was the first in line." Another deep, painful breath. "Who would have thought rides like '˜The Great American Scream Machine', 'Serial Thriller', 'Mind Eraser', or 'Acrophobia' would be scary!" After being shaken back into consciousness, Go Jo finished, "I can't count how many rides I've been on or how many times I've been frightened on any one of them."

The IAAPA has dismissed such lawsuits as frivolous and a blatant attempt to capitalize on the recent publicity given to the growing rates of popular thrill rides in the United States. However, the progress of the lawsuit will be closely watched by the amusement industry, which fears it could follow the tobacco sector in becoming the target of huge compensation claims from thrill-related lawsuits.