Liability in the Icon Park Tragedy

ELI5: Negligence

The chances of dying on a roller coaster are estimated to be one in a million. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Tragically, this year, 14-year-old Tyre Sampson fell from a free-fall ride that takes passengers over 400 feet high at Icon Park in Florida. The incident, although captured on video, happened after dark making it difficult  to tell what exactly went wrong. Though an investigation has been launched, there may be many different parties carrying various amounts of liability.  In Utah, liability can be apportioned—this means multiple parties can share fault. Although this case didn’t happen in Utah, we’re going to examine the liability as if it did occur in Utah.


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Tyre Sampson fell to his death on March 24, 2022 while riding the Orlando FreeFall in Florida’s Icon Park. Before Tyre rode the Orlando FreeFall, he was turned away from two other rides due to size restrictions. Stills of video taken moments before the ride started show Tyre’s restraint was not in the same position as other riders’ restraints. When the ride began to “free fall”, Tyre was able to slip out of his seat since the restraint was not in the correct position. Whether this had to do with Tyre’s size is still unclear. However, since the restraint was not in the correct position, Tyre was able to fall from a height of more than 200 feet. Now, the parents of Tyre are filing a claim for wrongful death.


In Utah, a person can be sued for wrongful death when their negligence causes the death of another person. Wrongful death is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. This means that being sued for wrongful death is not the same as being charged criminally with manslaughter or murder. In a wrongful death suit, the surviving members of the family allege that the defendant’s negligence caused the death of the deceased party, and they are seeking compensation.  If the surviving family members are successful in suing the defendant—in this case, an amusement park—the defendant will be ordered to pay the surviving members a sum that is usually either stipulated to by both parties in a settlement, or determined by the trier of fact (a judge or a jury) in court.


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When lawyers talk about product liability, they’re talking about the liability that the makers of a product have when it comes to injuries resulting from use of the product. We’re being intentionally vague when we say “makers of a product” because it’s not just the designers who have liability. Any party at any point in the supply chain can be liable for injuries resulting from the use of a product they were involved with making. In the tragedy that happened at Icon Park, there were likely multiple issues. It’s possible that the Orlando FreeFall had a manufacturing defect, design defect, and marketing defect.


Products have a manufacturing defect when there was something that was wrong with the manufacturing process that caused the product to become unreasonably dangerous. As previously mentioned, Tyre was able to slip out of his seat because his restraint was not properly secured. Logs have now shown that the sensor on the ride showed that Tyre’s restraint was indeed secured despite the fact that it clearly wasn’t secured enough to keep him from falling out of the ride. Though we cannot be certain why the sensor said the restraint was secure when it wasn’t, this may indicate that the Orlando FreeFall had a manufacturing defect. However, it’s important to note that it is possible that other factors may have contributed to the ride’s sensor malfunctioning.


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It may also be argued that the ride had a design defect. Design defects occur when the product’s design makes the product unreasonably dangerous. In this case, if you look at the pictures of the Orlando FreeFall, you can see that it does not have an additional seat belt that connects the over-the-shoulder restraint to the seat. It may be argued that if the Orlando FreeFall did have that additional seat belt, it’s possible that Tyre would not have fallen off the ride.  For a personal injury attorney to argue that a design defect exists, they’d need to show that the additional seat belt would have been a feasible alternative that would not interfere with the product’s original function.


Lastly, the product may have a marketing defect. A marketing defect can occur in many different ways. If a product doesn’t have enough instructions for use or proper safety warnings, the product could have a marketing defect. The Orlando FreeFall was only rated for 287 lbs. and apparently Tyree may have weighed more than that. However, it could be argued that it wasn’t apparent that Tyre was too large for the ride. This is especially true since we’re still unsure of whether or not Tyre actually fit in the bracket—and it’s possible that he did. It’s common for products to be rated at a lower weight limit than they actually are capable of handling. This is called a safety margin. It helps ensure that those who are close to the product’s advertised weight limit aren’t harmed when using the product.


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Lastly, the amusement park itself may have some liability. If the sensors malfunctioned because the amusement park did not sufficiently or properly maintain the ride, the amusement park could be liable. If the park employee was negligent in allowing Tyre to get on the Orlando FreeFall when he shouldn’t have, the amusement park could be liable since they’re responsible for what employees do within the scope of their employment. For the same reasons, the amusement park may be liable if they did not sufficiently check each restraint before the ride started. And, allegedly, employees had not been trained on the ride’s weight restrictions. If the aforementioned is true, the amusement park could also be liable for failing to provide employees with appropriate training.


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Right now, it’s uncertain what an in-depth investigation will reveal. However, what we do know is that a mother and father are both grieving the death of their child. Tyre Sampson was just fourteen years old when he passed away. He enjoyed playing football and was just ending his eighth-grade year when his life was tragically cut short during his Spring Break. His mother has started a GoFundMe account to help with the funeral expenses, therapy expenses, and other expenses associated with this tragedy. Our thoughts are with Tyre’s family at this time.

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