A Colorado Springs family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs over the tragic death of their young daughter.
Six-year-old Wongel Estifanos died on Sept. 5 from injuries sustained after falling over 100 feet from the amusement park’s Haunted Mine Drop ride.
State investigators conclude the girl was improperly secured
Wongel visited the park while on vacation with her family over the Labor Day weekend. They decided to ride the Haunted Mine Drop, which plunges 110 feet in 2.5 seconds. The ride does not use shoulder harnesses to secure riders, but only seat belts.
A Colorado Department of Labor and Employment investigation concluded that Wongel was not properly buckled. The report says the girl sat on top of two belts meant to secure her instead of wearing them across her lap.
Previous safety concerns cited in the lawsuit
In their wrongful death complaint, the family reports that at least two previous incidents on the same ride show operators failed to secure passengers properly. In both cases, the riders alerted the operators who had to refasten the seat belts.
The girl’s parents say a family member next to Wongel observed operators interacting with her and trusted that she was secure. However, once the ride came to a stop, the family member was “stricken with terror” when Wongel was not in her seat.
The lawsuit tests Colorado’s “liability waiver” rules
In recent years, taking legal action over negligence by Colorado amusement parks, ski resorts and other businesses and their employees has become increasingly challenging. That’s because state law permits companies to require that customers agree to a waiver releasing them from liability.
In some cases, customers sign a waiver, but many times they passively accept the terms, spelled out on the ticket, stating that they agree not to hold the business accountable for negligence, even when it leads to wrongful death.
Unlike many other states, Colorado allows parents to waive liability for their children. The law does not allow amusement parks and others to act “recklessly,” but some experts say signing a waiver lets a business get away with negligent practices and behavior.
Colorado further protects businesses by limiting wrongful death awards for noneconomic damages to $571,000 unless plaintiffs prove the business was intentionally reckless. That is a much higher legal standard than proving negligence.