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A brain injury isn’t what ‘one would expect while riding a roller coaster,’ appeals court says

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Minor bumps, sure.

Whiplash, OK.

But a subdural hematoma brain bleed does not normally result from a roller coaster ride, a three-judge panel of Division II of the state Court of Appeals said Tuesday.

As such, the judges found, a Pierce County court was wrong to dismiss the claims of a woman who sued a ride company after suffering such an injury at the Washington State Fair.

Jodi Brugh sued Fun-Tastic after a jolt of the roller coaster caused her to hit her head on the safety harness in 2013, and she suffered a subdural hematoma that required brain surgery.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson initially denied Fun-Tastic’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

Fun-Tastic asked her to reconsider, and after oral arguments, Nelson dismissed Brugh’s claims.

Then Brugh appealed.

“To summarize, the parties do not dispute that Fun-Tastic owed Brugh a duty as a business invitee, that Brugh’s injuries were caused by Fun-Tastic, or that Brugh suffered damages,” Judge Rich Melnick wrote for the unanimous panel. “They dispute only whether Fun-Tastic breached its duty of care.”

Brugh lost hearing in her ear after she hit her head, and she went to the fair’s medical tent, according to court records. Staff there recommended that she go to urgent care or see her doctor the next day, which she did.

She was bleeding from her ears when she saw her doctor. The doctor surmised that was due to an ear infection, since Brugh had a history of them.

The doctor later diagnosed Brugh with a brain injury when she returned with severe pain in her head and neck.

The doctor found Brugh’s injuries were likely directly related to the head trauma she suffered on the roller coaster.

“Brugh argues that general experience teaches that such an impact leading to her brain injury does not ordinarily occur on roller coasters, absent negligence,” Melnick wrote in the opinion, which was signed by judges Lisa Worswick and Bradley Maxa. “Fun-Tastic argues that Brugh must show something more than just the extent of her injuries to show that the roller coaster operated abnormally. Fun-Tastic claims that the roller coaster operated as expected and that any jolts were the normal jolts of the roller coaster.”

The appellate court agreed with Brugh. That means her lawsuit goes back to Pierce County Superior Court for further proceedings, unless Fun-Tastic asks the state Supreme Court to review the decision.

“We recognize that certain injuries are to be expected while riding roller coasters,” Melnick wrote. “For example, general experience teaches that people may receive minor bumps to their head from the safety harness of a roller coaster during a ride. General experience teaches that people may receive minor whiplash while riding a roller coaster. However, general experience teaches that a subdural hematoma brain bleed does not ordinarily happen while strapped into a roller coaster in the absence of negligence.”

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