After years of fighting, Dave Peterson and his son, Owen, from Virginia, are finally feeling some relief.
In 2006, Owen, who was 22 at the time, sustained an injury walking around a trade show at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Owen was there as a competitor in a paintball tournament, but two days prior to the competition a 10-foot advertising balloon labeled “Crossfire” struck him in the head.
The blow was hard enough that Peterson was knocked to his knees. He was left dizzy and in pain. According to Owen, a Disney manager told him to get checked out at a hospital and his medical bills would be covered by Disney. After his hospital visit, X-ray results showed no broken bones and no neurological damage was discovered. Peterson was given prescriptions for muscle relaxers and pain medication and told he could still participate in the paintball tournament.
While he experienced some stiffness, Peterson played in the tournament. After leaving the tournament, the headaches and neck pain persisted and in the end he was given a very different diagnosis then the one he received the day of the injury. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome. Before playing, he signed a liability waiver, similar to the ones given out at entertainment venues and sports events. After leaving the tournament, Peterson still had headaches and neck pain – ultimately, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome.
Before playing in the tournament, Owen had signed a liability waiver that is similar to those given out at entertainment venues and sports events. When he reached out to Disney regarding his new diagnosis, he was informed that by signing that form he had waived his right to hold anyone financially responsible for his injury from the balloon. It didn’t matter that the incident had actually occurred before he signed the tournament waiver and was not the result of his participation in the tournament.
Owen Peterson sued Disney and the companies who allegedly operated the ballon that fell on him in 2010. He argued that his injury was a result of negligence.
The case was dismissed in 2013 by an Orange County judge and a summary judgement grated to the defendants.
Dave Peterson wasn’t ready to give up and he helped his son file an appeal in 2014. Dineen Pashoukous Wasuylik, a Tampa appellate attorney helped bring the case all the way to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, arguing that exculpatory clauses, like the waiver Peterson signed prior to playing in the tournament, do not apply to events that happened before the waiver was signed.
And the Judges who heard the appeal agreed. “We reject Disney’s argument that the Waiver’s reference to injuries suffered ‘before, during or after such participation’ included the [balloon] incident,” an opinion brief from the court says. “The Waiver failed to clarify that it included any incident that occurred before its signing, and thus failed to notify Peterson of a post-claim release.”
According to Pashoukos Wasylik, winning the case felt like “snagging victory from the jaws of defeat. “Owen’s first lawyer has given up on him, and he had to handle things by himself,” she stated. “He did a good enough job to form some arguments, go to trial and get some justice. I’m glad I could help. It was definitely a David-versus-Goliath feeling.”
Last May, after the case was sent back to the lower court, a jury agreed that Crossfire Paintball, Inc. was, was negligent and as a result Peterson was awarded compensatory damages of $1.25 million. According to Dave Peterson, Owen settled out of court with Disney and the other companies. The amount received was not disclosed. Disney has not released a statement on the settlement.
All these years later, Owen Peterson still suffers from headaches that keep him from working full time, his father said. Now that the lawsuit is over though, some of the pressure the family felt has gone away.
“This consumed me every day – it was 10 years of brutality, but the appellate court and jury got my faith back in the whole system,” Dave Peterson stated. “Owen wants to put it all behind him, but the public needs to know the shenanigans Disney tries to pull on people. Anyone else that’s going through this – stick it out. Don’t give up in there.”
Source: Orlando Weekly