RIVIERA BEACH, FL — On the morning of June 24, 2005, seventeen year-old, Ryan L., and his friends went to Rapids Water Park to have fun. It was a hot summer day and Rapids was jam packed with patrons. Despite long lines the boys were having fun until Ryan was injured when he collided with his friend, Mark. The lifeguards stationed at the top and the bottom of the slide were asleep at the wheel and failed to realize that Mark had not cleared the ﬂume because he was in a blind spot. The attendant at the top of the slide had dispatched Ryan on a collision course that resulted in broken out teeth and a broken jaw.
The slide started out slowly, but riders go faster with every twist and turn approaching speeds of 30 feet per second.
Ryan came around a blind corner and saw Mark trying to place his mat back underneath himself. There was no way that Ryan could stop. In a split second, Ryan collided with Mark, taking out Mark’s feet and causing Mark to come crashing down upon him, driving Ryan’s face into the bright yellow ﬁberglass water slide temporarily losing consciousness. Even after the collision the life guards did not realize that they had an emergency on their hands. They kept sending riders down the ﬂume and Mark had to heroically pull Ryan to safety on the grassy bank to avoid a second or third collision.
Ryan would be treated by his dentist who removed broken tooth and bone as well as part of the yellow ﬁberglass from the wound in his mouth. Several reconstructive surgeries would follow.
Ryan contacted Sam Coffey. He wanted to draw attention to the danger presented by the water park operator.
Rapids blamed Ryan and Mark; calling them “rule breakers”; and, claiming that they were engaged in “horseplay.”
Rapids employees testiﬁed that Ryan and Mark were warned about the rules before the accident and were disobeying the rules to further the claim of “horseplay.” Rapids claimed that if you follow the rules it is not possible to collide with another rider.
Sam Coffey located former employees who testified that riders collided regularly without serious injury. This sounded innocent, but the fact that riders collided at all was evidence of a serious problem with how the slide was being operated by Rapids. Riders were supposed to be dispatched down the ﬂume 15 seconds apart according to its own policy. Rapids was overloading four riders into the ﬂume that was designed to hold only three riders safely. Riders were spaced nine seconds apart instead of 15 seconds, as required by the water park’s own rules. Riders were moving down the ﬂume six seconds or 120 feet closer together at top speed.
Sam Coffey proved convincingly that Rapids created a dangerous condition by spacing riders too close together and failing to properly monitor the riders to make sure that they were not stuck in blind spots before dispatching the next rider down the ﬂume. Industry standard testiﬁed to by water park safety experts established that Rapids had a duty to ensure that the flume was free of obstructions to avoid collisions exactly like this one. Rapids failed miserably.
The jury returned a verdict of $325,000 and determined that Rapids was 99% at fault and Mark was 1% at fault despite the claims by Rapids about “horseplay.”
Ryan lives in Broward County with his family. He attends college and ﬂight school. He enjoys surﬁng and works as a lifeguard when he is not studying.
Sam Coffey said, “[w]ater parks are a great place to escape the summer heat, but they can present hidden dangers to the unsuspecting patron. Be aware. Ryan hopes that Rapids will learn from this case and correct this dangerous practice of overcrowding its attractions before somebody else gets hurt.”