Law expert explains legal possibilities with Tyre Sampson amusement park case

Betty Q. Hixson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV) – New details are emerging as an investigation into the death of a St. Louis County teen at a Florida amusement park continues.

14-year-old Tyre Sampson, of Berkeley, fell to his death while on a thrill ride at Icon Park in Orlando, Florida, last week.

Tuesday, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Fair Rides Division released a report on the tragedy, which says that when the FreeFall ride stopped, Sampson’s harness was still in a down and locked position.

While there are a lot of questions that remain as to what led to the teen falling off the ride, a professor of law at SLU tells News 4 he believes there will be enough pressure upon the ride operator and park to ensure this case gets settled before any suit is filed.

“My guess is that it will settle very quickly. It could even settle without a lawsuit,” said John Ammann, Professor of Emeritus at SLU School of Law. “But if there’s a lawsuit even after that, it’ll settle very quickly. Ninety-eight percent of civil cases settle, and this is no different than most cases from that standpoint.”

Sampson’s father told News 4 Sampson weighed well over 300 pounds, but the ride’s manual lists a weight limit of 287 pounds.

Ammann says even if weight came into play as a cause for Sampson’s fall off the ride, he believes it will be hard to put liability on a 14-year-old child.

“This wasn’t a merry-go-round. This took people up more than 400 feet and then there was a drop. Very dangerous activity,” said Ammann. “And you can’t expect a 14-year-old to understand all the dangers that go with that. And the people on the ground operating the ride had the best last clear chance to prevent what happened, most likely by either telling him not to ride or adjust the safety features.”

Ammann says in this case, at least three or more different groups could ultimately be held liable for the tragic death: the designer of the ride, the manufacturer and the operation.

“The three or more possible defendants here will all point fingers at each other, there’s no question about that,” he said.“And under Florida law, where this happened, we have comparative fault…where they can shift percentages of the blame among those defendants and also partially if they argue, partially to the young man himself as the plaintiff.”

Ammann added, “While the person who actually strapped him in may have been negligent, they’ll look at that, that person is not your prime defendant. And a lot of attorneys would not even sue that person, because the company that employed them would be liable no matter what.”

A spokesperson for the Slingshot Group, the ride operator, sent News 4 the following statement from CEO Ritchie Armstrong:

”We are heartbroken by the loss of Tyre Sampson and absolutely devastated for his family and loved ones. We have suspended the operations of the Free Fall ride and the Slingshot ride at Icon Park. We are fully cooperating with the authorities at the state and local levels who are investigating this tragic incident. We plan on providing additional information in the coming days, as we learn more.”

Meanwhile, tons of support continue to pour in for Sampson and his family. Midtown Community Services, an after-school program Tyre Sampson was a part of in St. Louis, released a statement on social media extending sympathies for his family.

The statement said in part:

“Tyre was a friend to everyone, always watched out for the younger kids at Midtown, and was the best big brother to Ania. He was also a dedicated student and a star athlete.”

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