A New Jersey waterpark visitor who was partially paralyzed in a 2010 accident while on a ride that simulates surfing can proceed with a lawsuit, the state Supreme Court ruled this week.
Roy Steinberg and his wife claim employees at Sahara Sam’s Oasis Water Park in West Berlin, N.J., about 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia, Penn., didn’t properly instruct him about safety on the FlowRider, a ride that simulates surfing by having a sheet of water flow toward the rider.
Steinberg said he wasn’t told that as a novice he should lie on the board instead of standing, and that he shouldn’t use both hands to hold onto a rope held by a park employee.
According to the lawsuit, Steinberg fell off the surfboard shortly after the ride began and hit his head, causing a catastrophic spinal cord injury.
A lower court and an appeals court had dismissed the case, which seeks monetary damages. Both ruled Steinberg couldn’t sue for simple negligence since he had signed a waiver before getting on the ride.
The waiver didn’t prohibit a claim under the more serious charge of gross negligence, the courts acknowledged, but they rejected Steinberg’s argument that a jury could find Sahara Sam’s actions met that higher standard.
The state Supreme Court disagreed. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Barry Albin concluded a review of the evidence “demonstrates that a rational factfinder could conclude that Sahara Sam’s conduct constituted gross negligence.”
Albin noted the park failed to display the most recent safety signs recommended by the manufacturer, which included drawings depicting the ride’s dangers as well as safety techniques.
The newer signs included stronger warnings about potential risks, Albin wrote, including one that read, “failure to comply with signs or instructions may increase the risk of severe permanent injuries or even death.” They also recommend watching a safety video, which Steinberg wasn’t shown, according to Tuesday’s opinion.
An attorney representing the waterpark and a waterpark spokesman didn’t return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
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