A Louisiana appellate court has refused to dismiss the Louisiana State Fair from a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 4-year-old boy who was brain-damaged as a result of becoming trapped beneath one of the fair's rides.
Sheldon Renard Lewis was taken to the fair in Shreveport, Louisiana, by his Head Start preschool program on Nov. 2, 2011, according to Wednesday's ruling by the Louisiana 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport in Lakhesia Lewis and Sheldon Hallmon v. Pine Belt Multipurpose Community Action Acquisition Agency Inc. et al.
Sheldon and other children went on the Twin-Ring Demolition Derby, one of the featured carnival rides in the fair's Kiddie Land area, according to the ruling. While he and others were exiting the ride, it went into motion, allegedly because the ride's control panel was left unattended and one of the children from the group gained access to it and activated the ride, according to the ruling.
Sheldon became trapped between a component of the Twin-Ring and a rotating platform on the ride's floor. Initial attempts to rescue him including the use of the Jaws of Life were unsuccessful. He stopped breathing for a period of time and, as a result, suffered brain damage, according to the ruling.
Sheldon's parents sued the Head Start program, the carnival company that operated the ride, the ride's manufacturer and Shreveport-based State Fair Inc., among others. The ruling focuses just on the state fair.
A state court judge in Shreveport held the state fair was not vicariously liable for the actions of the ride operator and its employees. But he refused to grant the fair summary judgment dismissing it with respect to charges of independent negligence and comparative fault.
The fair asked the state appeals court to review the ruling, and it agreed with the lower court.
“It is undisputed that the Twin-Ring carnival ride was not owned, maintained, assembled or operated by State Fair,” said the ruling. “However, the fair itself was owned, controlled and, in a large part, operated by the State Fair.
“Under the facts of this negligence case, we cannot say that the owner of the ride was solely liable for any and all injuries, while State Fair, the owner, host and overseer of this fair, does not bear any liability for the damages suffered by plaintiffs,” said the ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel.
“State Fair had a duty to at least ensure that the rides had safety measures in place to prevent another child or customer from gaining access to the control panel and rides,” it said.
“To say that State Fair had no responsibility for the operation of the rides does not alleviate its responsibility to ensure that all of the rides were safe from unauthorized tampering when the riders were in the 'off' position.
“Accordingly, we conclude that genuine issues of material fact exists in this negligence case as to whether there is a causal connection between State Fair's duty to provide a safe premises and safe rides, and the injuries suffered by plaintiffs and their son,” said the appeals court, in remanding the case for further proceedings.