While the California Department of Safety and Health (CDSH) has ruled that some guest-related incidents are Disney's fault, the majority of incidents were due to negligence on the guests' part.
The term incidents refers to major accidents, injuries, deaths and significant crimes. While these incidents are required to be reported to regulatory authorities for investigation, attraction-related incidents usually fall into one of the following categories:
Caused by negligence on the part of the guest. This can be refusal to follow specific ride safety instructions, or deliberate intent to violate park rules.
The result of a guest's known or unknown health issues.
Negligence on the part of the park, either by ride operator or maintenance.
Act of God or a generic accident (e.g. slipping and falling) that is not a direct result of an action on anybody's part.
According to a 1985 Time magazine article, fewer than 100 lawsuits are filed against Disney each year for numerous incidents.
Disney California Adventure
On April 22, 2003, a 36-year old stage technician fell 60 feet from a catwalk in the Hyperion Theater, prompting an investigation by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA). The victim did not regain consciousness following the incident and died on May 18, 2003. In October 2003, Cal/OSHA fined the Disneyland Resort $18,350 for safety violations related to the technician's death.
On July 29, 2005, 25 guests were injured when one train rear-ended another and 15 guests were transported to local hospitals for treatment of minor injuries. An investigation determined that the faulty brake valve which caused the collision, though it was installed and tested shortly before the accident, was of a less reliable make than the valve it replaced.
On July 22, 2011, 23 people were rescued from California Screamin' by firefighters when a person's backpack fell out of one of the trains and landed on the track, causing the orange train to valley just after the loop but before the next block brake. It re-opened two days later after the train was winched up the next hill, had its damaged wheels replaced and allowed to complete the circuit.
On February 18, 2012, a 53-year old man was allegedly drunk and proceeded to assault a cast member right at the entrance gate of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror around 3:30pm. The cast member pepper-sprayed the man multiple times prompting him to continue fighting and was subdued by other guests until security intervened and handled the situation. Details on what exactly started the fight remains unknown. The man was eventually removed from the park and charged with assault and battery by Anaheim police. The incident was filmed via camera phone and uploaded to YouTube.
On July 8, 1974, an 18-year-old employee was crushed to death between a revolving wall and a stationary platform inside the America Sings attraction. She was in the wrong place during a ride intermission; it was unclear whether this was due to inadequate training or a misstep as the ride had been open for only two weeks by this time. They closed the ride for two days, subsequently refitting it with breakaway walls.
On September 5, 2003, a 22-year-old man died after suffering severe blunt trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster that also injured 10 other riders. The cause of the accident was determined to be improper maintenance. Investigation reports and discovery by the victim's attorney confirmed the fatal injuries occurred when the first passenger car collided with the underside of the locomotive. The derailment was the result of a mechanical failure which occurred due to omissions during a maintenance procedure. Fasteners on the left side upstop/guide wheel on the floating axle of the locomotive were not tightened and safetied in accordance with specifications. As the train entered a tunnel the axle came loose and jammed against a brake section, causing the locomotive to become airborne and hit the ceiling of the tunnel. The locomotive then fell on top of the first passenger car, crushing the victim.
On December 24, 1998, a heavy metal cleat fastened to the hull of the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose, striking one employee and two park guests. One of the guests, a 33-year-old man, died of a head injury. The normal tie line, an inelastic hemp rope designed to break easily, was improperly replaced for financial reasons by an elastic nylon rope which stretched and tore the cleat from the ship's wooden hull. Disney received much criticism for this incident due to its alleged policy of restricting outside medical personnel in the park to avoid frightening visitors, as well as for the fact that the employee in charge of the ship at the time had not been trained in its operation. After this incident, Disney reinstated lead foremen on most rides and the Anaheim police department placed officers in the park to speed response. This accident resulted in the first guest death in Disneyland's history that was not attributable to any negligence on the part of the guest. California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigated the incident and found fault with the training of the park employee who placed the docking line on the cleat. The cleat was not designed to help brake the ship and the employee should have been trained to recognize when the ship was approaching too fast. Ride procedures called for the ship's captain to reverse the ship if it overshot the dock and re-approach the dock at the correct speed. Disney was fined US$12,500 by Cal/OSHA and settled a lawsuit brought by the victim's survivors for an estimated US$25,000,000.
On June 25, 2000, a 23-year-old woman exited the Indiana Jones ride complaining of a severe headache. She was hospitalized later that day where it was discovered that she had a brain hemorrhage. She died on September 1, 2000 of a cerebral aneurysm. Her family's subsequent wrongful death lawsuit against Disney stated that the victim died due to "violent shaking and stresses imposed by the ride." In an interlocutory appeal (an appeal of a legal issue within the case prior to a decision on the case's merits), the California Supreme Court held that amusement parks are considered "common carriers" similar to commercially operated planes, trains, elevators and ski lifts. This ruling imposes a heightened duty of care on amusement parks and requires them to provide the same degree of care and safety as other common carriers. Disney settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum after the interlocutory appeal but before a decision was rendered on the case's merits. The victim's medical costs were estimated at more than US$1.3 million.
On November 27, 2009, the ride broke down while a quadriplegic guest was on the ride. The guest was stuck in the Goodbye Room for between 30–40 minutes before being evacuated. As he suffered from medical conditions that were aggravated by the "blaring music" and inability to exit the ride, he sued Disney for not having adequate evacuation procedures for disabled guests on that ride, and for not providing the proper warning developed for those who could not evacuate during a ride stoppage. On March 26, 2013, a jury awarded the man US$8000.
In 1964, a 15-year-old boy was injured after he stood up in the Matterhorn Bobsleds and fell out. It was reported that his restraint was undone by his ride companion. He died three days later as a result of those injuries. It was the first fatality at Disneyland.
On January 3, 1984, a 48-year-old woman was killed when she was thrown from a Matterhorn Bobsled car and struck by the next oncoming bobsled. An investigation found that her seatbelt was not buckled. It is unclear whether the victim deliberately unfastened her belt or if the seatbelt malfunctioned.
On a Grad Nite in 1966, a 19-year-old-male was killed while attempting to sneak into the park by climbing onto the monorail track. Ignoring the shouted warnings of a security officer, he was struck by the train and dragged 30 to 40 feet down the track. The security guard in question later stated he had to "hose the kid off the underside".
In August 1967, a 17-year-old boy was killed while jumping between two moving PeopleMover cars as the ride was passing through a tunnel. He stumbled and fell onto the track, where an oncoming train of cars crushed him beneath its wheels and dragged his body a few hundred feet before it was stopped by a ride operator. The attraction had only been open for one month at the time.
In 1972, four teenage girls were riding the PeopleMover when one teenager lost her mouse ears cap. She and her cousin jumped onto the track to retrieve them. Realizing they'd have to get on a different PeopleMover cart, the first girl successfully got into a cart, while the second girl ran through a tunnel and out the exit and then fell into a guard rail and onto the concrete 30 feet below. She broke an arm, hip, and pelvis, she had to be in a body brace and had to have a pin inserted into her leg. She sued Disney for not having any warnings about the exit.
On June 7, 1980, an 18-year-old man was crushed and killed by the PeopleMover while jumping between moving cars. The accident occurred as the ride entered the SuperSpeed tunnel.
In June 1973, an 18-year-old man drowned while attempting to swim across the "Rivers of America". He and his 10-year-old brother stayed on Tom Sawyer's Island past closing time by hiding in an area that is off-limits to guests. When they wanted to leave the island, they decided to swim across the river even though the younger brother did not know how to swim. The victim attempted to carry his younger brother on his back and drowned halfway across. His body was found the next morning. The younger brother was able to stay afloat by "dog paddling" until a ride operator rescued him.
On June 4, 1983, an 18-year-old man drowned in the Rivers of America while trying to pilot a rubber emergency boat from Tom Sawyer's Island that he and a friend had stolen from a "cast members only" area of the island.
On September 22, 2000, a 4-year-old boy fell out of the ride vehicle and was dragged underneath the car, causing serious internal injuries, cardiac arrest and brain damage. On October 7, 2000, Disneyland changed its emergency policy and began instructing ride operators to call 911 first, instead of the Disney security center, in order to speed emergency staff to any incident on park property. Records showed that more than five minutes passed between the time the victim fell out of the ride vehicle and emergency personnel were contacted. A Disney spokesman claimed that the timing of this policy change and this incident were coincidental. An investigation ending in December 2000 concluded that a lap bar had malfunctioned and the victim was placed in the wrong seat in the ride vehicle, too close to the opening. Three months after the incident, the Permanent Ride Amusement branch of California's Division of Occupational Safety instructed Disney to install additional safety features on the ride. In January 2002, Disney settled with the victim's family, based on the cost of the victim's continuing medical care and suffering; Disney was not required to accept blame. The victim never fully recovered from his injuries and died in January 2009.
On April 17, 1994, a 30-year-old man fell about twenty feet from one of the gondolas into a tree in front of Alice in Wonderland. Paramedics rescued him and took him to an area hospital for treatment for minor injuries. The man filed a $25,000 lawsuit against Disney, claiming he had simply fallen out of the ride. However, just before the trial date in September 1996, the victim admitted he had indeed jumped out of the ride; the suit was subsequently dropped.
On August 14, 1979, a 31-year-old woman became ill after riding Space Mountain. At the unload area, she was unable to exit the vehicle. Although employees told her to stay seated while the vehicle was removed from the track, other ride operators did not realize that her vehicle was supposed to be removed and sent it through the ride a second time. She arrived at the unloading zone semi-conscious. The victim was subsequently taken to Palm Harbor Hospital where she remained in a coma and died one week later. The coroner's report attributed the death to natural causes: a heart tumor had dislodged and entered her brain. A subsequent lawsuit against the park was dismissed.
In April 2013, Disney voluntarily closed Space Mountain, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Soarin' Over California due to OSHA-related issues so employee safety protocols could be reviewed. Downtime for each attraction differed, with Space Mountain being closed the longest at one month. The safety review stemmed from seven OSHA fines that were initiated from a contractor injury in November 2012, where the worker fell down the outside of the Space Mountain building and broke several bones. OSHA fined Disney $235,000, and also fined the contracting company $61,000 for safety violations.
On March 16, 2005, a 4-year-old boy broke a finger and severed the tip of his thumb when the child's fingers were pinched between the boat and the dock while passengers were unloading. The ride was closed for nearly two days while state authorities investigated the accident. Authorities directed Disneyland to lower and repair rubber bumpers along the dock's edge, and to make sure ride operators inform passengers to keep their hands in the boat while it docks.
Tom Sawyer's Island
On January 21, 2001, a 6-year-old girl lost two-thirds of her left index finger while playing with a toy rifle that was mounted on a turret on the Island's Fort Wilderness. Disney did not report this incident to OSHA, as serious injury accidents only need to be reported if the incident occurred on a ride. OSHA stated that the incident did not fall under their review, as accidents and injuries that occur on playground equipment do not qualify for OSHA reporting.
On May 28, 2013, two small explosions in trash cans caused the Toontown area of the park to be evacuated. Officials believe the explosion was caused by a plastic bottle filled with dry ice taken from a nearby ice cream stand. The bomb squad was called to investigate. No injuries were reported. A 22-year-old concession stand worker from Long Beach, California was accused of creating and detonating the two dry ice bombs. He pled not guilty and was soon acquitted from the charge.
In 1976, an unidentified woman sued Disney Parks Corporation, claiming that one of the Three Little Pigs at the "It's a Small World" grabbed and fondled her. She claimed to have gained 50 pounds as a result of the incident and sued Disney for $150,000 in damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment and humiliation. The plaintiff dropped charges after Disney's lawyers presented her with a photo of the costume, which had only inoperable stub arms, a common feature among the shorter characters that was eliminated in later years.
A 1981 case tried a cast member who was playing Winnie the Pooh in 1978. It was alleged that he slapped a child and caused bruising, recurring headaches and possible brain damage. The cast member testified that the girl was tugging at his costume from behind. When he turned around, he accidentally struck the girl in her ear. At one point, the cast member entered the courtroom after recess in the Pooh costume and responded to questions while on the witness stand as Pooh would, including dancing a jig. Appearing as Pooh showed the jury that the costume's arms were too low to the ground to slap a girl of the victim's height. The jury acquitted the cast member after deliberating for 21 minutes.
On March 7, 1981, an 18-year-old man was fatally stabbed with a knife during a fight in Tomorrowland. His family sued the park for US$60 million. The jury found the park negligent for not summoning outside medical help and awarded the family US$600,000.
On March 7, 1987, a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot in the Disneyland parking lot. The incident began as an early morning confrontation between rival gang members before escalating into a brawl. Eighteen-year-old Keleti Naea was convicted of second-degree murder, but the conviction was subsequently overturned by a state appellate court.
On Oct 19, 2013, Michael Zarcone, founder of a sub-acute children's hospital in Saratoga, CA, died while visiting the park.