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Disneyland sued over fatal accident on ride
Updated: 2004-10-06 16:23

The Walt Disney Co. was sued on Tuesday by the family of a man who died on a Disneyland ride last year, and by four other passengers injured in the derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride.

The three separate lawsuits, filed in Orange County Superior Court, seek unspecified general and punitive damages for the death of 22-year-old Marcelo Torres and injuries suffered by other passengers in the Sept. 5, 2003, accident.

The lawsuit accuses Disney of failing to provide enough training for ride operators and of cutting costs so deeply that maintenance on rides has been dangerously neglected.

The suit says Big Thunder Mountain operators were afraid to take the train out of operation, even after hearing unusual noises, because of an "atmosphere of intimidation" created by Disney management.

In a statement, Disney said it had "offered a fair and just settlement and it's regrettable that the plaintiffs have resorted to making false charges."

"The safety of our guests and cast member has always been our top priority, and Big Thunder Mountain was reopened only after it was found by the state to be safe for operation, and after verification that all corrective actions and retraining had been fully completed," the statement said.

The ride, designed to look like a runaway train, split apart as it entered a tunnel near the end of its track, and the rear cars came crashing down upon the front cars, according to Torres' lawsuit. Ten people were injured in the crash.

The force of the impact crushed Torres, pinned his body to the seat and bent the safety railing of the car behind him, the lawsuit said.

His best friend, Vicente Gutierrez, was beside him in the front car and suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs, facial injuries and lost teeth.

Gutierrez, 22, has filed a separate personal injury suit against the Magic Kingdom, said his attorney, Wiley Aitken.

The third lawsuit was filed by a family who sat in the car behind Torres and Gutierrez and who suffered minor injuries and emotional trauma, Aitken said.

"This train came apart because the maintenance department put it back in operations with one key bolt not tightened and the safety wire ... not placed on the bolt," Aitken said. "Incredibly poor maintenance caused his death."

Big Thunder Mountain, which began operating in 1979, has been shut down two more times since the Sept. 5, 2003, death due to accidents.

In April, two trains without passengers slammed into each other, an accident blamed on operator error.

In July, three passengers were injured and sent to the hospital after two trains collided in the loading area. It reopened at the end of August.

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