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Parents of Tyre Sampson file wrongful death lawsuit against multiple businesses

Published: Apr. 24, 2022 at 4:34 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The parents of a North County teen who was killed when he fell off a ride at a theme park in Orlando, Florida filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday afternoon.

Nationally renowned personal injury attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Orange County, Fl. on behalf of Yarnell Sampson, the father of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson. Attorney Michael Haggard, based near Miami, filed on behalf of the mother, Neika Dodd.

The teen fell from the FreeFall drop tower at ICON Park in Orlando in early April, authorities said. The FreeFall takes riders up and then drops them nearly 400 feet at speeds that reach more than 75 mph, according to the park. Questions have been raised about whether Sampson was too large to be allowed on the ride. He weighed more than 300 pounds. A report conducted by outside engineers said Sampson was not properly secure on the ride.

“The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to misadjustment of the harness proximity sensors,” said the report from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis, Inc.

READ: Accident report in Tyre Sampson’s death says park ride seat was locked

The lawsuit names the following businesses as defendants: ICON Park; Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot, LLC; Extreme Amusement Rides, LLC; The Slingshot Group of Companies and The Slingshot Group; IDL Parent, LLC; ID Center (FL), LLC; Orlando Slingshot, LLC; High Rides, LLC; Funtime Handels, GMBH; Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, GMBH; Keator Construction, LLC; and I Drive 360 Management Services, LLC.

Today, News 4 spoke with Dodd’s attorney after the lawsuit was filed.

“There’s different theories against the different parties, but they’re all culpable. Had one done the right thing, this never happens,” said Haggard. “Had the manufacturer put seat belts on this ride, this never happens. Had the operator not manipulated the seat this likely never happens. So they’re all responsible. It’s going to be up to a jury to decide what percentage each is responsible.”

The lawsuit alleges the following as reasons leading to the teen’s death:

  • No seatbelts or secondary restraints were in use on the Free Fall ride. Most free-fall rides utilize seat belts in addition to over-the-shoulder harnesses.
  • Tyre’s weight was significantly over the weight restriction listed in the ride’s manual. No height or weight restrictions were posted at the ticket counter. No employees present advised Tyre that he was too big to safely ride the Free Fall ride.
  • Defendants allowed the proximity sensors for the safety harness to be improperly altered and manipulated so that the ride was able to operate without Tyre’s harness properly closed.
  • The ride and seat manufacturer failed to properly design the ride so that the proximity sensor for the safety harness could not be improperly modified and additionally failed to provide warnings about the consequences of adjusting the harness sensors.
  • Tyre fell at least a hundred feet onto hard pavement after he was ejected from the ride.

“We could’ve filed the lawsuit right away, but what we wanted to do, number one, was inspect the ride ourselves, and we had our experts inspect it,” said Haggard. “Then, getting the report from the state of Florida confirmed what our experts saw with this manipulation. We’ve done a bunch of research on all these rides across the country, these free fall rides, and I can tell you this is the most dangerous design that’s every been constructed in the United States of America.”

The suit alleges the defendants failed to safely own, operate, manage, test and inspect or control the free fall drop ride. The lawsuit also questions why seat belts were not installed on the ride, saying in part, “while most free fall rides of this type have both a shoulder harness and a seatbelt, this ride only had an over-the-shoulder harness to “secure” riders.”

“I mean it just cannot operate as it was designed to do. There are a lot of things to look at at other free fall rides. Number one, a double restraint system. A harness with a seatbelt employed...a 22 dollar seat belt. If it’d been equipped in every ride, it would’ve taken two rides to pay for it,” said Haggard.

Also, it alleges neither workers employed by ICON park or by the operator, Orlando Slingshot, prevented or advised Tyre about any weight restrictions or had signage posted, despite the 14-year-old being over 70 pounds heavier than the ride’s maximum weight limit.

Trevor Arnold, the attorney for Orlando Slingshot, issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the State during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded. We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry and we are also supportive of the concepts outlined by State Representative Geraldine Thompson to make changes to state law through the ‘Tyre Sampson Bill’ to prevent a tragic accident like this from ever happening again.”

Haggard says while all plaintiffs involved in the suit are seeking damages for Tyre’s death, he says the true victory will be when the amusement park industry puts forth better safety measures to prevent something like this from happening to another child again.

“This case is about justice for Tyre, but there is no justice for Tyre if this happens to another child. This could never happen in the United States. So, we’re already in talks with the consumer product safety commission, with federal legislators because we need something to change nationally. It’s not going to help if its just in Florida and then it happens in St. Louis, or it happens in Chicago. That’s just not right. So, we need real inspections, real standards, and real safety features on these rides to make them safe, and it’s not that hard,” said Haggard.

Sampson’s mother and Haggard are scheduled to speak at a press conference about the lawsuit Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. inside the Live! by Loews hotel. This will be Dodd’s first time speaking publicly since her son died on March 24.

“What Nekia wants to talk to everybody about, most importantly mothers and fathers, is that this case is about keeping their children safe too and what she is motivated to do to change this industry,” said Haggard. “And that’s what she’s really waited to talk to everybody about, to gain the strength to do it, and she feels she’s ready at this point in time.”