In a lawsuit against a fatal amusement park accident during a school outing that claimed the life of a child, defendant amusement park cannot seek indemnification from the school. However, according to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court opinion, defendant will be allowed to seek a verdict that allocates fault to the school, meaning it plaintiffs could ultimately receive less.
The issue in Jones v. Morey’s Pier was that defendant amusement park failed to give proper notice of claim to the school under the state’s Tort Claims Act. Still, the park will be allowed to present evidence during the pending trial against it that the school was negligent and that this negligence was a proximate cause of the girl’s death. If the jury finds credible evidence of this, it can allocate a percentage of fault to the school, which would reduce the park’s overall liability and the amount it would have to pay the child’s parents.
This question of common-law indemnification against a public entity was one of first impression in New Jersey, and although it has no direct bearing on the court process in Florida, courts often look to the decisions of their sister courts in reaching conclusions about similar matters.
According to court records in this case, it all started with the death of an 11-year-old girl in 2011 who fell from a 160-foot Ferris Wheel while riding alone in a carriage. The policy at the park is not to allow children visiting the park to ride alone on this particular attraction.
The girl attended the trip as part of a reward for honor roll students to celebrate the end of the school year.
Her parents, in filing their wrongful death lawsuit against the park, assert that the park allowed their daughter to ride alone in the carriage – despite the minimum two-person-a-carriage policy – and that high winds made the ride unsafe. They argue the park was negligent in failing to warn of dangerous wind conditions, failed to offer adequate safety instructions, failed to install proper safety measures to prevent falls from the ride, inadequately maintained locks on each gondola and did not lock the door on the carriage from which their daughter fell.
The parents did not name the school as a defendant, nor did they apparently ever intend to do so. However, the amusement park insists the school should share in the responsibility.
This is one reason why having an experienced wrongful death attorney to handle your case is so critically important. Identifying and taking action against all potential defendants ensures you receive the compensation to which you are entitled. Failure to name an entity as a defendant could ultimately result in less compensation for you.
It was undisputed in this case that neither plaintiffs nor defendant amusement park ever served the school with a notice of claim in the case – which is necessary anytime one is suing a government agency. Cases against government agencies must be handled with special consideration, as they are subject to more stringent notice of claim requirements, as well as potential damage caps.
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Jones v. Morey Pier, Inc., July 27, 2017, New Jersey Supreme Court
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