A couple of days ago, it was reported in several news sources that a family was suing Universal Studios Orlando because their warning signage was only in English.
Here are the details of the story and what I think about it all:
Apparently, a 38-year-old man had a fatal heart attack shortly after riding the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride with his wife at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. The event happened in 2016, about 6 months after the attraction opened.
The lawsuit and reports indicate that Jose Calderon Arana was visiting from his native country of Guatemala with his wife and son. He didn’t speak English. The man apparently had a history of heart problems and after riding the Kong ride, wasn’t feeling well. His wife thought he had an “upset stomach,” so while he sat on a bench and rested after the ride, his wife and son went on another ride. During that time, he reportedly became faint, collapsed, and was taken to the hospital where he later died.
The family states in the wrongful death lawsuit that there was a delayed response to their spouse/father passing out from medical personnel at the theme park. They also say the warning signs should be in English and Spanish, due to how many people who visit the park are from Spanish-speaking countries (as per the AP. “…local tourism figures show that 6.1 million of metro Orlando’s 72 million visitors in 2017 came from outside the United States. A little less than 900,000 visitors came from three Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America — Mexico, Argentina and Colombia — and more than 820,000 tourists came from Portuguese-speaking Brazil. U.S. census figures also show more than a quarter of Floridians speak a language other than English at home.”).
I’ve been on that ride a good dozen or more times since it’s opened. True, the warning signs are only in English, but they also have illustrations that, of course, require no knowledge of any sort of written language.
This is the warning sign for Skull Island: Reign of Kong:
Here’s a better view of a Universal “Don’t ride if you have a heart condition” sign:
Now, I’ve seen several travelers discuss this and say when they travel, they make sure to learn the language (I actually, I saw some woman say she doesn’t travel somewhere until she’s 100% fluent in the language. Geesh, exaggerate much?). As someone who has traveled to several countries where I spoke little to none of the language (sometimes I try to learn key words and phrases, sometimes not; it depends on the trip), I don’t agree with them, as I don’t see a need to blame Mr. Calderon Arana for not understanding a sign that says, “Persons with the following conditions should not ride: Heart conditions or abnormal blood pressure.” English 101 and even 102 don’t include stuff like that in its syllabus. “Where is the toilet?” and “How much does this cost?” are usually more of what they go for.
But back to the ride…
The queue for the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride is well themed and strongly suggests the ride is significantly scarier and action-packed than, say, It’s A Small World or the Caro-Seuss-El (that’s a carousel that’s themed with Dr. Seuss characters). I mean, there are literally hundreds of skulls, an audio-animatronic in a darkened room that has fire coming out of the eyes of 10′ skulls, with chanting that becomes louder and louder, plus dark tunnels that have scareactors popping out to scare people a’la Halloween Horror Nights – and that’s all in the queue! You know what else the queue has? At least four of those warning signs that all include a picture that represents DON’T GO ON THIS RIDE IF YOU HAVE A HEART CONDITION.
The park also has lots and lots of information online that’s in Spanish, such as this:
Also available online in Spanish is every single warning for every single attraction.
I would think that if the family had advanced plans to go to Universal, they would have used the online information in Spanish to learn more about their destination. But even if the visit was spur-of-the-moment, again, the warning signs included illustrations to assist those who might encounter a language barrier.
As for how quickly emergency personnel got to Mr. Calderon Arana, I couldn’t say – I wasn’t there. As for the “All of their signage should be in Spanish as well?” Well, I suppose it would be nice. But to have a wrongful death lawsuit over it? No, I don’t think so. There were certainly enough signs – literally in pictures, figuratively in themeing, and everything online in Spanish – that would suggest a man with a known heart condition might want to consider not experiencing that ride.
Dennis Speigel, an Ohio-based theme park consultant, said it best, I think. As he told the AP, “Unfortunately, as litigious as our society is, when something happens in a park, whether you stub a toe or have a heart attack, people want to sue you.”
We’ll see what happens with this lawsuit. And, for that matter, if/how Universal’s signage changes.
What do you think?
** Special thank-you to Emily K. for the link of the Spanish language ride warnings
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary