I am constantly surrounded by theme park fans who are relentlessly craving for more. Disney, Universal, Six Flags and Sea World should all be opening a new E-ticket attraction every six months, according to my fellow park junkies. The reality of the business is, theme parks come with a mountain of operating costs that the public isn’t even aware of, and that’s kind of the point, right?
Take the recent verdict that was handed down to Six Flags Over Georgia as a perfect example. In 2007, Joshua Martin was beaten into a coma while waiting at a bus stop just outside the park by members of a gang known as YGL (Young Gangster Living). These were not just any gang members; they were employees of Six Flags Over Georgia.
Earlier in the day, security was called because the same YGL gang members were harassing a family inside the park. According to Six Flags, there were no off duty police officers were in the park that day. So only Six Flags security was called to the scene to break up the incident.
Once the employees/gang members left the park, they randomly chose Joshua Martin and his friends at the public bus stop located outside of the Six Flags property line. The YGL gang used brass knuckles and injured Martin’s friends, who were later released from the hospital. However, Joshua was beaten to the point where he was in a coma for a week and now lives with severe brain damage.
The gang members have all pleaded guilty and are serving time accordingly, but the real blow came last week when the civil trial ended. Martin’s doctors have estimated that he will need at least $7 million for medical expenses alone for his life care plan. That combined with potential lost life earnings wages, family member’s lost wages needed for his care and other losses and grief expenses meant the jury awarded his family with a grand total of $35 million dollars.
So who pays? The gang members were charged with a total of 8% of that $35 million verdict, and split between the four of them, which comes out to 2% per gang member/roughly $750,000 each. This means that Six Flags must pay the remaining 92% totaling roughly $32 million dollars in damages.
Before you get bored with all these numbers and go running off to another site to find out what the reindeer look like this year in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parade, stay with me for a little longer. The gang members who did the physical beating of a teenage boy with brass knuckles and sent him into a coma and caused permanent brain damage are responsible for less than 10% of the monetary damages. However Six Flags is responsible for over 90% of the money required for an incident that happened at a bus stop that is not even located on their property.
According to local officials, “businesses like Six Flags” are required to keep the entrances and exits of their property safe. The bus stop, located off of Six Flags Parkway, was on a county road that also serves as the only entry and exit to the park. A local police officer did testify that the bus stop was a hot spot for crime, but that doesn’t mean that Six Flags is 92% responsible for what happened to Joshua, does it?
Hypothetically, let’s say that I go to a locally-owned diner with my buddies and decide to pick on a random teenage kid… and do the exact same crime that happened to Martin. This hypothetical crime would take place in the diner’s parking lot, which sits along a street in what could be considered as not the nicest neighborhood in town. Do you think the diner would be responsible for more than 50% of the damages?
Several Six Flags Parks, for better or worse, are located in areas that have a lot of gang activity. I am by no means calling the parks unsafe. However, internally, they are well aware of the problem and take proper steps with their security teams. This does not mean that if I, or anyone who visits or works for Six Flags, is responsible for any crime that I commit on or near their property, that the company is now responsible for the damages.
So why did they get stuck paying $32 million? Because the jury knows that Six Flags can afford it, that’s why. To squeeze out $750,000 out of each gang member may never even happen, so who is going to pay the bills for Joshua who now has a lifetime of suffering? Clearly the company who is worth millions and can take the hit.
As they should, Six Flags is talking with their lawyers and determining if appealing the ruling is a smart decision. Meanwhile, the bills are racking up for Joshua Martin. If there ever was a perfect example of how our court system is broken, this is it. Even if you plead guilty of a crime, apparently, you can be held responsible for less than 10% of the monetary consequences as long as that crime happens close enough to the property line of a multi-million dollar corporation.
So next time you start whining about why your favorite theme park doesn’t just spend more money on expensive new roller coasters? Just keep it all in perspective about how complicated the business is to run in the first place, eh?