Texas Giant maker: Six Flags declined to install seat belts

Posted Thursday, Mar. 06, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The German manufacturer of the Texas Giant says that Six Flags Over Texas decided not to put seat belts on the roller coaster in 2011, two years before a Dallas woman fell to her death from the ride last summer.

Six Flags has alleged that the roller coaster car was defective and dangerous in a suit filed against Gerstlauer last month. But in its legal response, Gerstlauer says that the fatal accident “was avoidable by Six Flags at several levels.”

“Six Flags ordered Gerstlauer not to put seat belts on the train,” the manufacturer’s filing says. “The trains were designed according to Six Flags’ specifications. Six Flags expressly designed and specified in writing that there be no seat belts on the trains for the Texas Giant.”

Responding to the filing, Six Flags issued a statement saying, “The manufacturer assured Six Flags that the Texas Giant, without seat belts, was safe for riders. As an additional safety measure, when the ride reopened in September, we added incremental and overlapping safety measures including redesigned restraint bar pads and new seat belts. The safety of our guests is our number one priority.”

The court filings by Gerstlauer and Six Flags were made as part of a court case brought by the family of a accident victim, which is suing the park and other Six Flags entities, including its parent Six Flags Entertainment Corp. and Gerstlauer.

Rosa Esparza 52, fell to her death while riding the Texas Giant on July 19. The ride was immediately shut down, but it was reopened in September after Six Flags said its investigation found that no mechanical failure was involved. Six Flags added redesigned restraint-bar pads from the manufacturer, as well as seat belts, and it began providing a coaster seat at the ride's entrance so guests can test whether they fit safely into the cars.

Gerstlauer said it provided Six Flags the test seat two years before the accident, one that had a red light indicating that a passenger’s size was inappropriate for the restraint system, the filing said.

“Six Flags only began using this system after the accident,” Gerstlauer said in the filing. “The trains were delivered to Six Flags over two years before the accident and Gerstlauer had no control over the operation and maintenance of the trains. Six Flags was heavily and integrally involved in the design, specification, testing and installation of the trains.”

Arnd Von Waldow, an attorney with Reed Smith which is representing Gerstlauer, said Six Flags decided that the ride was safe after its engineers tested the ride by hanging upside down without a seat belt.

“They’re the expert on running amusement parks,” Von Waldow said. “Six Flags engineers know what they are doing when specifying a train. They know what they wanted and they didn’t want a seat belt.”

Von Waldow stressed that the ride and train were operating safely, “until this one time when the lap bar was not pushed down properly. Only one person was ejected. It’s a tragic, tragic event. It’s unfortunate it happened.”

The Texas Giant, which originally opened in 1990, reopened in 2011 after being shut down for a year for a $10 million renovation, which included installation of a steel track.

Gerstlauer also alleges that Six Flags didn’t properly train or supervise its ride personnel. The filing says the operator on the ride when the accident happened didn’t property perform the “push-pull” test and should not have allowed the ride to begin with the lap bar in an incorrect position.

When another employee saw the lap bar was “too high,” an emergency stop button should have been activated, Gerstlauer said in the filing.

Six Flags officials, the filing says, “have pointed a finger, but all fingers point right back to them. This accident was caused solely by the failure of Six Flags’ own personnel to follow the ride and safety instructions and rules issued both by Gerstlauer and by Six Flags. Six Flags has unclean hands.”

Gerstlauer is asking that the cross-action filed by Six Flags against the company be dismissed.

Six Flags Over Texas opens Saturday for spring break.

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

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