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Saratoga Doctor Loses Lawsuit Against Great America

Fractured wrist on bumper car ride ruled an ‘assumed risk.’

It was supposed to be a fun family outing.

Saratoga’s Dr. Smriti Nalwa took her two children to California's Great America amusement park in Santa Clara one day in 2005.

Instead, Nalwa ended up with a serious injury that would force her to go on disability from her job as an OB-GYN and to file a lawsuit against the theme park’s owners, Cedar Fair LP.

Nalwa was riding in a bumper car driven by her 9-year-old son when they were hit head-on by another bumper car. Nalwa prepared for the violent collision by bracing her hand on the dashboard and when the other car crashed into their car, her son said he heard a “crack” and his mother discovered that she had broken her wrist.

She sued the theme park for negligence in not configuring or operating the bumper car ride so as to prevent her injury. On Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 the California Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 summary judgment for the defendant that her injuries were part of the ordinary risk of "active recreation."

“They really came at this case full force,” said Vic Nalwa, Smriti’s husband. “There’s a lot at stake for these amusement parks. We are disappointed because the case just dragged on so long and we find the ruling unfair.”

Park operators said about 300,000 visitors rode the cars in 2005 and 28 reported injuries. Nalwa's suit did not contend there were defects in the car but argued Great America should have minimized head-on risk by making the cars travel in only one direction, according to SF Gate.

A state appeals court allowed the suit to proceed but was overruled by the state's high court, which said bumper-car riders, like skiers, voluntarily participate in an activity that includes a certain level of danger.

"This risk cannot be eliminated without changing the basic character of the activity," Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said in the majority opinion. Justice Joyce Kennard dissented, saying a jury should decide whether Nalwa knowingly undertook the risk of a head-on.

The ruling applies only to rides controlled by the customer, and not to roller coasters, which are considered forms of transportation governed by a higher standard.

Still, declared Mark Rosenberg, a lawyer for Nalwa, "amusement-park patrons are less safe" due to the decision.

Jeffrey Lenkov, a lawyer for park owner Cedar Fair, said allowing the suit to proceed would have required operators to "eliminate the fun in the ride, like taking spice out of a spicy sausage."

Vic Nalwa, says that other theme parks have addressed the issue by rebuilding the bumper car course into an oval so that the cars can’t hit each other head on.

Dr. Nalwa, still suffers weakness in her hand due to the injury, and did not receive damages in the case.

To read the court's ruling, please click here.

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