ANAHEIM - A fun-filled day at Disneyland came to an abrupt end two years ago when Edward Bates tried to help his elderly mother step from an It's a Small World boat.
A novice ride operator is alleged to have accidentally hit a switch that caused the boat to lurch, throwing Bates off his feet and wedging him between the boat and walkway. The 50-year-old truck driver from Walnut wrenched his back and knee, racked up at least $61,000 in medical expenses from several surgeries and is suing the Magic Kingdom.
It's hard to find a more sedate ride at Disneyland than It's a Small World, yet the international puppet sing-along is fourth on the list of rides that have drawn lawsuits against Disneyland over the years, according to a review of Orange County court records by a local author.
Bates' accident is indicitave of how slow or low-tech rides have been named as the source of accidents right along with the high-speed thrill attractions.
The highest producer of lawsuits has been the Autopia motorcar ride, according to David Koenig in his book, "Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland," with 67 of more than 650 suits filed from the park's opening in 1955 through 1992. Except for whiplash-producing strikes from cars behind, the ride is hardly a scream machine.
Drivers "think they are little toy cars and they ram each other. If you are sitting still and someone comes from behind you, you can cut your lip" when struck from behind, Koenig explained.
Second among the top lawsuit-producers is the park's only true longtime thrill ride, the Matterhorn bobsled, with 45 lawsuits. It was followed by the relatively sedate Haunted Mansion with 20, It's a Small World with 19, and Pirates of the Carribean with 18. And sixth on the list was probably the least stressful of all: the parking lot tram.
"A slow ride can hide the fact it can be dangerous," Koenig said. Teen-agers may be tempted to break rules on slow rides by climbing out of a slow moving car, become injured and sue. While all Disneyland rides are safe, "the faster rides are more susceptible to accident that are not your fault."
Still, even the slow rides can have their share of operator mistakes or mechanical problems that result in visitor injuries. Since 1989, guests have been injured on three separate occasions when the arms of Dumbo the Flying Elephant have come loose. The ride, essentially a children's carousel in which ride vehicles can be moved up or down, is one of the park's oldest attractions.
A Disneyland official said the park strives to make all rides safe, and does not distinguish between a thrill ride or a kiddie ride in insisting on safety throughout the park.
Disneyland attourney Richard McCain, who defends the park against lawsuits, agreed -- but said visitors need to watch out for their own safety as well.
"Disneyland is a wonderful and safe place," he said, adding that "One should never forget when they go into any public arena -- whether it is Disneyland, the public beach or a movie theater -- that they must still use reasonable care for their own safety.