Six Flags denies liability in fatal roller coaster accident

Posted Monday, Oct. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Six Flags Over Texas denied liability in the July accident of a Dallas woman who fell to her death from the Texas Giant roller coaster, saying in a court filing that it complied with inspections and maintenance procedures recommended by the German company that designed and built the ride.

Six Flags, in its response to a lawsuit filed last month by the woman’s relatives, said it “relied upon the expertise” of Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, which designed and manufactured the roller coaster train, its passenger restraint system and the track the ride operates on.

Six Flags says it was unaware of any similar incidents occurring on any Gerstlauer roller coaster like the Texas Giant.

“Six Flags believes it met all of the manufacturer’s maintenance and operational instructions, applicable to ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials International) standards and all the requirements of Texas law as evidenced by the fact that the new Texas Giant roller coaster had received a certificate of inspection indicating same from an independent inspector just a few months before the incident involving Mrs. Esparza,” the filing said.

Rosa Esparza, 52, was killed July 19 on her first visit to the Six Flags park in Arlington. Her family filed suit in September in Tarrant County naming the amusement park, Six Flags Entertainment Corp., Six Flags Theme Parks, Inc. and Texas Flags, Ltd. as defendants. The family is seeking more than $1 million in monetary relief.

Emails sent to Gerstlauer Amusement Rides in Münsterhausen, Germany, seeking comment were not immediately returned. The company was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Frank Branson, the attorney representing the Esparza family, could not be reached for immediate comment Monday.

The ride was immediately shut down following the accident, and was reopened last month after Six Flags said its investigation found that no mechanical failure was involved in the accident. Six Flags, though, added re-designed restraint-bar pads from the manufacturer and new seat belts.

The park also began providing a coaster seat at the ride entrance so guests can test their fit before entering the line, saying guests with “unique body shapes and sizes” may not fit into the ride’s restraint system.

The family’s suit says Esparza, who also went by the last name Ayala-Gaona, was upside down in her seat and holding on for “dear life” before she was thrown to her death. Esparza was in the front left seat of the train’s second car behind her daughter and son-in-law. The car had no seat belt or shoulder harness, only a single lap or “T-bar” to restrain passengers.

Six Flags said in its filing that 2.5 million people had ridden the new Texas Giant before the accident. The Texas Giant opened at Six Flags Over Texas in 1990, but the ride was closed at the end of the 2009 season for a $10 million renovation to make it faster, smoother and more thrilling. The ride reopened in April 2011.

The Texas Giant rises 14 stories high and has a 79-degree first drop, the steepest in the world for a wooden roller coaster.

The family’s suit alleges there were problems with the ride’s security system, saying the green-light system was experiencing inconsistencies and intermittent failures that shouldn’t have allowed the train to be dispatched unless each safety bar restraint was in the proper position.

The suit alleges that inspections later found there were inconsistencies in the relative locking positions of the safety bars on the train’s cars, as well as failures found in the green light system.

In its response, Six Flags said the green-light system was also designed by Gerstlauer.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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