In Lewis v. Pine Belt, et. al, 2014 WL 1805306 (La. App. 2 Cir. 5/7/14), the Louisiana Second Circuit upheld the denial of a partial summary judgment filed by The State Fair of Louisiana (the “State Fair”). The case involved horrific facts. During 2011, the four year old plaintiff was taken to the fair along with his “Head Start” class. At the fair, his class rode the “Twin-Ring Demolition Derby Carnival Ride” and became trapped between moving components when one of his classmates gained access to an unattended control panel. Initial attempts to rescue the plaintiff with the “Jaws of Life” were unsuccessful and the plaintiff experienced severe brain damage.
The owner and operator of the ride was the Lowery Carnival Company (“Lowery”). Prior to the partial motion for summary judgment at issue, the State Fair had demonstrated in a separate motion that Lowery was an independent contractor such that the State Fair was not vicariously liable for its actions.
Through its subsequent motion, the State Fair cited to a string of cases holding that the owner of carnival rides possesses “exclusive control” such that the hosts or sponsors of a fair cannot be held liable for injuries sustained on the rides. See, e.g., St. Pierre v. Frye Amusement, 93-0653 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/29/94), 635 So. 2d 358. Nevertheless, the trial judge found those cases distinguishable. The court cited to evidence that the State Fair held itself out to the public as the “owner, host and promoter of a safe fair.” As such, the court identified a duty on the part of the State Fair to ensure that the rides had safety measures in place to prevent a customer from gaining access to the control panels for the rides. Stating that it was a “close call,” the trial court held that the fact the State Fair possesses no duty to control the operation of the rides did not prevent it from owing the duty “to ensure that all of the rides were safe from unauthorized tampering.”