Robert J. Nobilini, Ph.D., Biomechanical Engineer
Case Synopsis: The plaintiff was riding a rollercoaster style ride at an amusement park when she incurred significant cervical injuries. Plaintiff described being thrown sideways to her right, feeling pain in her neck, and immediately experiencing neurological symptoms from the neck down. When the car returned to the station, the plaintiff could not feel or control her extremities.
Expert Analysis: An examination of plaintiff’s medical records revealed that she had incurred a herniated nucleus pulposus at the C5-6 level of her cervical spine with spinal cord impingement. During her deposition, plaintiff described that the car went into a sharp left turn, throwing her to the right, causing her right shoulder to strike the padded metal restraint rail that was mounted to the car. An examination of the subject ride revealed that the right siderail on the incident car was bent outward. Maintenance records for the ride revealed that the park was having issues with the speed of the ride increasing over the months leading up to the incident. It was determined that the increased speed of the ride, particularly as the cars moved through the sharp turns, created higher than expected lateral loads on patrons. The outward bending of the right siderails on the incident car was evidence that patrons were being thrown laterally into the rail with great force. During the incident, the plaintiff was thrown laterally towards the rail. Because the rail was displaced outward, the plaintiff was able to accelerate over a greater distance before striking the rail. As a result, she struck the rail at a greater than expected velocity, exposing her to a higher rate of deceleration. As plaintiff’s right shoulder struck the rail, her head continued to move laterally, forcing her cervical spine into extreme side bending, which resulted in her injuries.