Disney Faces Lawsuit From Mission: SPACE Death
Scott Powers | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted June 13, 2006, 8:00 PM EDT
One year after a 4-year-old Pennsylvania boy died after riding Epcot's Mission: Space simulator ride, his family has sued Walt Disney World for wrongful death.
The family of Daudi Bamuwamye sued the company Tuesday in Orange County Circuit Court seeking unspecified damages. They say company officials didn't adequately warn the public of the ride's hazards, should never have allowed a boy so small onto the ride, and didn't do enough to help him when he got off unconscious and stricken.
"They are exposing the general public to a ride whose forces they don't really understand," said Tampa attorney Robert A. Samartin, who is representing Daudi's parents, Moses and Agnes Bamuwamye of Sellersville, Pa.
Mission: Space spins riders inside a mock spaceship, using centrifugal force, other physical motion, video and audio to simulate a trip to Mars. The ride opened in the summer of 2003 and Disney has said more than 11 million people have been on it.
In April, a second person died after riding the attraction, a 49-year-old German woman named Hiltrud Bl?At least another 10 have been hospitalized and at least another 130 have been treated at the scene for illnesses.
In May Disney revised the ride to offer a "lite" version that does not include centrifugal force. But the company has always maintained, and still insists, that the original version is safe.
A Disney spokeswoman denied all the assertions in the suit Tuesday and offered the family sympathy.
While on vacation, Daudi, his sister Ruth, and their mother rode Mission: Space on June 13, 2005. During the ride, Agnes Bamuwamye saw her son tense up, scream and then become unresponsive. When the ride ended, paramedics and later doctors at Florida Hospital Celebration were unable to resuscitate him.
An autopsy by Dr. Jan. C. Garavaglia, chief medical examiner for the district that includes Orange and Osceola counties, found that Daudi died of a heart attack caused by a previously undiagnosed, rare heart disease that gave him an enlarged heart flawed with scar tissue.
Another autopsy is pending for Bl?though a preliminary report said she had severe high blood pressure and died of a stroke.
The Bamuwamye family was marking the anniversary of Daudi's death Wednesday in quiet solitude and was unavailable to comment, Samartin said.
"They are struggling. They have a surviving daughter and they are forging ahead. They are people of deep faith. That helps them," he said. "But it's a day-to-day struggle.
Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Polak called his death "a terrible loss to his loved ones. We sympathize with them. However, we disagree with the assertions of the lawsuit."
The Bamuwamye suit accuses Disney of not doing anything to modify the ride or adequately warn the public of danger even though many people have sought emergency medical attention since the ride's inception.
The family also faults Disney for allowing 44-inch children on the ride, when one national standard, suggested by the American Society for Testing and Materials, calls for a 48-inch minimum for rides of high acceleration. Daudi was 46 inches tall.
And the Bamuwamyes complain that Disney paramedics did not use a portable defibrillator on him. They say Disney boasts, in promotional materials, of having portable defibrillators throughout its theme parks, and 4,000 employees trained to use them.
"We're pretty confident it would have given this kid a chance, and possibly saved his life," Samartin said.
Polak acknowledged that there was no portable defibrillator stationed at Mission: Space. But she said well-trained, well-equipped paramedics handled the emergency response appropriately. She also said the 44-inch height is appropriate for the ride, and that Disney has no reason to change the ride or public warnings that are delivered through multiple signs and audio and video media. They warn, among other things, that people with heart conditions or high blood pressure should not ride.
"We believe the attraction is safe," she said.