Personal Injury Case Study
This case demonstrates the principle of vicarious tort liability in an accident caused by an amusement park employee. We'll discuss relevant legal issues including specific damages, liability, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
Definition of "Vicarious Liability": when one person or entity is legally responsible for the actions of another person or entity due to a legally relevant relationship.
Mary and her 8 month old daughter went to an amusement park known for its whimsical characters. While there, they decided to ride an attraction on a boat seating approximately 25 patrons with one employee driving the boat. This boat was free-floating (meaning that it was not on a track).
The employee began horsing around telling the patrons that he could "rock" the boat back and forth to make a more frightening adventure. The problem was that the ride was not "scary" but rather was meant to be a mild float across the water. The more he rocked the boat, the more the patrons protested, however this did not stop his behavior.
Because it was not on a track, the boat capsized dumping all 25 patrons and the employee driver into the 10 foot deep water below. None of the patrons were wearing life vests and Mary found herself and her 8 month old baby fully submerged under the water unable to get air. Mary was able to hold onto her baby as she swam to safety however both were distraught.
The employee is liable for negligence because his behavior far exceeded the bounds of what is expected of an amusement park employee.
The amusement park has vicarious tort liability for the acts of its employee (called "respondiat superior") as well on the basis of negligent hiring and negligent supervision. These are causes of action that make an employer liable even if they don't know that the tortuous acts are actually happening.
The cause rests on the theory that if the employee had been better trained and supervised, he/she would never have engaged in such an idiotic act.
While Mary did not have any physical injuries that could be seen at the time of the accident, her emotional injuries were far more pervasive. Because she was holding her young, 8 month old baby, she had the real and present fear that she would not be able to both swim to safety and hold onto her.
The likely causes of action here would be intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and general negligence.
The baby woke up nightly for 12 months screaming when prior thereto, she had been a docile and peaceful child who slept completely through the night. This led her pediatrician to suspect that the baby suffered from a syndrome similar to post traumatic stress disorder.
Mary immediately went to the First Aid center at the amusement park where she and the baby were observed by paramedics. Thereafter, she began seeing a therapist to address her fear of boats and water.
The amusement park attorneys contacted her one week after the incident offering $50,000 to Mary and $25,000 to the baby and free amusement park tickets for 1 year.
This case never went to the insurance adjuster as the attorneys recognized that this would be horrible PR for the amusement park. Mary did not want to hire an attorney and share 1/3 of her recovery with a firm so she settled the case for the amounts offered.
She was, however required to have the settlement approved by the court and place the infant's settlement in an interest-bearing account which could not be withdrawn until she reached the age of 18.
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