This is a summary of notable incidents that have taken place at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. This list is not intended to be a comprehensive list of every such event, but only those that have a significant impact on the parks or park operations, or are otherwise significantly newsworthy.
The term incidents refers to major accidents, injuries, deaths, or significant crimes that occur at a Disney park. While these incidents were required to be reported to regulatory authorities for investigation, attraction-related incidents usually fall into one of the following categories:
- Caused by negligence on the part of the guest. This can be refusal to follow specific ride safety instructions, or deliberate intent to break park rules.
- The result of a guest's known or unknown health issues.
- Negligence on the part of the park, either by ride operator or maintenance.
- Act of God or a generic accident (e.g. slipping and falling), that is not a direct result of an action on anybody's part.
According to a 1985 Time magazine article, fewer than 100 lawsuits are filed against Disney each year for various incidents.
Several people have died or been injured while riding attractions at Walt Disney World theme parks. Prior to 2001, Disney was not required to report incidents to the state authorities, but they have made reports since. For example, from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2006, Disney reported four deaths and nineteen injuries at its Florida parks. More statistical information is available at Amusement Park Accidents.
- On April 30, 2005, 30-year-old Ryan Norman of Mooresville, Indiana, lost consciousness shortly after exiting the ride and later died. He wore a pacemaker, and Norman's parents said he had a heart condition. An investigation showed the ride was operating correctly and was not the cause of Norman's death.
- On May 29, 2013, a woman found a loaded pistol on the ride. It was reported to the ride attendant, which in turn was reported to authorities. Its owner stated that they were unaware of Disney's policy against weapons and had a concealed weapons permit.
- On December 18, 2007, a 44-year-old man from Navarre, Florida lost consciousness while riding the coaster. He was given CPR at the station and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. An autopsy by the Orange County medical examiner's office concluded that the victim died of dilated cardiomyopathy and that the death was considered natural.
- On May 29, 2007, five guests and one cast member (three teenagers, one 21-year-old, and two people in their 40's) were injured while exiting a raft during a ride stoppage triggered by a monitoring sensor. It was on a steep incline, and the emergency exit platform allowing guests to easily access the emergency stairs from the incline malfunctioned. An investigation determined that it "disengaged and slid," according to a Disney spokesperson, who went on to say that Disney will use an alternate method for guests to exit the ride in future emergencies. The six people were taken to local hospitals to treat minor injuries, where they were later released.
- On November 27, 2007, a 63-year-old employee died from a brain injury suffered four days earlier when she was hit by a ride vehicle after falling from a restricted area of the station. On May 23, 2008, OSHA fined Walt Disney World US $25,500 and charged the company with five safety violations. The fines were: $15,000 for three serious violations; $7,500 for a still missing handrail that had been previously reported; and $3,000 for not responding to OSHA requests within the requested time period.
- On March 13, 2011, a 52-year-old employee suffered head injuries while working on the ride and was airlifted to a local hospital, where he later died. The ride was undergoing maintenance and was closed to the public at the time of the incident.
- On March 15, 2007, 51-year-old Oscar Wicker, Jr. from Pulaski, Mississippi, collapsed near the Downhill Double Dipper. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Initial reports say that he died of a heart attack. His family says that he had a pre-existing heart condition. An autopsy showed that he did die of a heart attack.
A number of incidents involving the show's performers have occurred since its premiere in 1989. In 1990, OSHA fined the resort $1,000 after three performers were injured in three separate incidents. In one, a performer fell 30 feet when a restraining cable failed. In another, a performer fell 25 feet when a prop ladder collapsed unexpectedly. A third performer was pinned by a malfunctioning trap door. At the time, OSHA cited Disney for failing to provide adequate fall protection, including padding and other equipment. Later, while rehearsing a new, safer routine, another performer fell 25 feet onto concrete. Several incidents have also occurred with the plane's propeller. Normally, the performer playing the burly German mechanic is supposed to fall through a trap door just before being hit by the propeller (to simulate the mechanic's fate in the first movie). On several occasions, though, the door did not work, and performers were hit by the propeller (which, thankfully, is breakaway); many guests joked that, in the event of such an incident, they had opted to recreate the mechanic's gory death seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. For a time, the scene was reworked so that the mechanic was instead shot to death, but eventually, the original version was reinstated.
- On August 17, 2009, a 30-year-old performer died after injuring his head while rehearsing a tumbling roll. Performances for the next day were canceled out of respect for him.
- On June 29, 2006, 12-year-old Michael Russell from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was found to be unresponsive after the ride came to an end. CPR was administered by his father on the scene while awaiting arrival of paramedics, but he was declared dead on the way to the hospital. The ride was shut down for the investigation, but reopened a day later after inspectors determined that it was operating normally. Initially, a medical examiner stated that Russell may have had a congenital heart defect. The final report confirmed that he died from that. His death marked the seventh such incident to occur in a Disney theme park since December 2004.
- On July 12, 2005, 16-year-old Leanne Deacon from Kibworth, Leicestershire, England complained of a severe headache and other symptoms after riding the ride. She was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. She underwent surgery to stop intracranial bleeding. On August 6, she returned home via air ambulance. While she reportedly had ridden the ride several times previously during her visit with no ill effects, her initial collapse was unexplained. Later tests showed that she had been in pain for a few days, before having a massive stroke leading to cardiac arrest. After an examination by both Disney and state inspectors showed no ride malfunction, the ride was reopened the next day. She returned home after spending six months in the hospital due to two heart attacks and surgery.
- On May 16, 1995, four-year-old Linda Baker passed out during the ride. It was stopped immediately, and paramedics were called to the scene. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. Some of her relatives said that she was known to have had a heart condition, but the autopsy was inconclusive as to whether the ride (which was rougher than its counterpart based on the same technology, Star Tours) aggravated it.
- On June 13, 2005, 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye died after riding the ride. An autopsy, released on November 15, by the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office, states he died as a result of a pre-existing, previously undiagnosed heart condition called idiopathic myocardial hypertrophy. On June 12, 2006, a lawsuit was filed against Disney by his parents, claiming that they never should have allowed a 4-year-old child on the ride, and didn't offer an adequate medical response after he collapsed. On January 11, 2007, the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice with both sides having to only pay their own attorney fees.
- On April 12, 2006, 49-year-old Hiltrud Blümel from Schmitten, Germany, fell ill after riding the ride and died at nearby Celebration Hospital. It was later found out she died from a bleeding brain caused by high blood pressure, not due to the ride.
- From June 2005 to June 2006, paramedics treated 194 riders. The most common complaints were dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Of those 194 guests: 25 people passed out, 26 suffered difficulty breathing, and 16 reported chest pains or irregular heartbeats. The period was compared to the rough test-and-adjust period of Space Mountain. Disney responded by deactivating the centrifuge on one of the simulators and offering it as a less-intense experience known as "Green Team". The original experience for the hardier thrill-seekers was retained as "Orange Team".
- On January 15, 2007, 67-year-old John Parietti from New York suffered from slurred speech and right-side weakness after riding the ride. He died two days later. The medical examiner ruled that he had a stroke, but did not perform an autopsy.
- On August 14, 1999, a 5-year-old boy was seriously injured after falling or stepping out of a ride car. He was treated for an compound fracture at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
- On October 9, 2011, a fire broke out in the centerpiece of the ride. Authorities reported that it was caused by a light bulb that shorted out and started to smolder. The incident occurred shortly after the park had opened for the day, and no guests were aboard the ride when the fire was discovered. It re-opened the following day.
- On February 11, 2004, 38-year-old cast member Javier Cruz died when he was accidentally run over by the Beauty and the Beast parade float in a backstage area. He was dressed as Pluto at the time.
- In March 2010, a 4-year-old boy from San Diego, California, suffered severe burns to his face after being scalded by a cup of hot nacho cheese. The accident occurred when he sat down to dinner in an unstable chair and grabbed a tray of food to prevent himself from falling, resulting in the cheese flying into his face. His parents sued Disney, with their attorney claiming that "the cheese should not have been that hot" and that Disney made no effort "to regulate and monitor the temperature of the cheese which was being served to young children." A Disney representative commented on the incident: "It's unfortunate when any child is injured. We just received notice of the lawsuit and are currently reviewing it."
- In February 2007, an 89-year-old woman fell and broke her hip while exiting a ride vehicle.
- On August 11, 1977, a 4-year-old boy from Dolton, Illinois drowned in the moat surrounding Cinderella Castle. His family sued Disney for US$4 million and won; however, the jury found the plaintiffs 50% liable for allowing him to climb over a fence while playing and reduced the award to US $1.5 million.
- 77-year-old Gloria Land of Minnesota lost consciousness and died after riding the ride in February 2005. A medical examiner's report said she was in poor health from diabetes and she previously had several ministrokes. The report concluded that her death "was not unexpected."
- A 12-year-old boy lost part of his fingertips when he dangled his hand over the end of the boat. When the boats lined up, his hand was hit.A similar accident happened to a 40-year-old man, causing Disney to not allow people to sit at the back of the boat, so the incidents don't happen again.
- On December 12, 2010, a 77-year-old woman with pre-existing conditions collapsed after exiting the ride. She later died due to the incident.
- On February 14, 1999, 65-year-old part-time custodian Raymond Barlow was critically injured when he fell off the ride. He was cleaning the Fantasyland station platform when the ride was accidentally turned on. He was in the path of the ride vehicles, and grabbed a passing one in an attempt to save himself. He lost his grip and fell 40 feet, landing in a flower bed near Dumbo the Flying Elephant. He died shortly after being taken to a local hospital. The ride, which had been scheduled to be closed before the accident occurred, was permanently done so on November 11, 1999. As a result of the accident, OSHA fined Disney $4,500 for violating federal safety codes in that work area.
- 6-year-old Rame Masarwa fainted after riding the ride on August 1, 2006, and was taken to nearby Celebration Hospital where he later died. The medical examiner's report showed that he, who was terminally ill and suffered from cancer of the lungs, spine, and abdomen, died of natural causes due to a metastatic pulmonary blastoma tumor. He was visiting the Magic Kingdom as a recipient of a trip by the Give Kids the World program.
- On December 12, 2006, an unnamed 73-year-old man lost consciousness while riding the ride. After being taken to a nearby hospital, he died three days later. The medical examiner's report stated that he died of natural causes due to a heart condition.
- In the ride's early days, injuries were commonplace, mainly because it could not be seen from outside, and the signage said nothing about it being a roller coaster (in fact, this wasn't allowed at all). One woman stated she thought it was a slow-moving ride with projections of the "pretty pictures of space". Others thought it was along the lines of Peter Pan's Flight. Eventually, a low-key safety spiel was recorded by former Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, and signage was allowed to call the attraction a roller coaster. Furthermore, two of the rocket sleds were removed and placed outfront in a steep dive with astronaut dummies inside to reinforce that it was a roller coaster.
- On November 5, 2000, 37-year-old William Pollack from St. Petersburg, Florida was critically injured while trying to exit a ride vehicle while it was moving through the ride. At the time, he told fellow passengers that he felt ill, and attempted to reach one of the marked emergency exits.
- On May 20, 2007, five guests from Shirley, New York, ages 14 to 20 years old, were arrested for allegedly attacking a sheriff's deputy. They were accused of spitting and harassing other guests, and were being detained by Disney security near Space Mountain. When an Orange County sheriff's deputy arrived, the deputy stated that he was "Punched in the face with closed fists...by all the defendants." During the melee, the deputy used a stun gun on an unnamed 17-year-old female guest. All five, including 19-year-old Brian Guilfoil and 20-year-old Rose DiPietro, were arrested on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, and for resisting arrest with violence. The 17-year-old one was also cited for battery on a uniformed officer.
- On May 29, 2007, a 34-year-old Clermont, Florida woman was allegedly attacked by a 51-year-old park guest from Alabama as they waited in line at the Mad Tea Party. On the day of the attack, while Disney security did speak with witnesses, Orange County police did not take any sworn statements from those witnesses. The victim stated that the sworn statements were not taken due to a delay in the arrival of the deputies. On July 17, an arrest warrant was issued for the alleged assaulter.
- In August 2005, 12-year-old Jerra Kirby of Newport News, Virginia felt ill while in the wave pool. Lifeguards talked with her after noticing her sitting on the side of the pool, and she said she felt fine. She passed out shortly thereafter. CPR was performed on her, and she was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The autopsy showed that she died due to arrhythmia caused by an early-stage viral heart infection.
- On July 3, 2009, a 51-year-old man from Farmington, New York was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation after allegedly attempting to remove a teenager's bathing suit while in the wave pool. Disney security was notified and they called for Orange County deputies. In the arrest report, both Disney security and the deputies report observing the man attempting to do the same to at least five other girls.
- On July 10, 2009, a 51-year-old man from Connecticut was charged with lewd and lascivious exhibition after he allegedly fondled himself in front of a teenage girl near the wave pool. One eyewitness, a visitor who worked with paroled sex-offenders in Missouri, confronted him who then fled the scene. As he attempted to leave the parking lot, he ran a stop sign and was stopped by an Orange County deputy and detained on charges of driving with a suspended license. He denied the lewd conduct charges, claiming his European-style swimsuit was too small. This was the fifth sexual-related reported incident to occur at a Central Florida water park in 2009; the other parks aside from Typhoon Lagoon were Blizzard Beach, Aquatica, and Wet 'n Wild.
- On July 16, 2009, a 29-year-old man from Washington was arrested and charged with one count of lewd molestation of a teenager. He was sentenced to 24 months in state prison.
- Several hours after opening on September 11, 2001, the 9/11 terrorist attacks commenced. Fearing that the American parks could be idealogical targets (likely targets for planes included the Matterhorn at Disneyland, Spaceship Earth, and Disney's Contemporary Resort), Michael Eisner gave the order to evacuate all four parks in Florida (due to timezone differences, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure never opened that day). Cast Members were informed not to mention why the parks were closing to avoid inciting panic, and PA announcements simply stated the parks had closed for the day. Cast Members formed human corridors to gently guide guests to the exit. Fortunately, no planes attacked Disney property (the attacks were mainly centered at military, economic, and political targets). Following the attacks, there was a downsurge in business, leading to the delay of the opening of Disney's Pop Century Resort (the Classic Years opened in 2003, while the Legendary Years never opened and eventually became Disney's Art of Animation Resort), Disney's River Country closed at the end of the 2001 season, never reopened, and has since been left to rot, the invisible security approach was abandoned, pneumatic barricades were installed at backstage road entrances to prevent "20-ton trucks filled with explosives" from barreling through, and rain ponchos sold in the parks were changed from yellow to transparent to, among other reasons, cut down on instances of families being unable to find each other and shoplifting, as well as to (presumably) ensure no one could conceal weaponry or explosives.
- On June 29, 2000, a waiter and a child were held hostage by the latter's father in a hotel room over domestic issues. During the hostage situation, other guests were evacuated and given alternative accommodations in the resort. The man released the hostages and handed himself over to authorities in the early hours of June 30.
- On May 23, 1987, a six-year-old boy drowned in a swimming pool. His family later sued, stating that resort should have had more than one lifeguard on duty to monitor the crowded pool, and that it should have had a safety line between the shallow and deep ends, as is prevalent at most other pools.
- On June 13, 2010, a body was discovered at the hotel. The cause was originally unknown, but was later declared a suicide.
- On October 9, 1989, a 33-year-old woman from Glen Cove, New York, was killed when a tiny speedboat collided with a ferry boat. She and her 8-year-old son were broadsided by the ferry while trying to videotape friends and family members who were water skiing in the Seven Seas Lagoon. A crew member and a visitor on the ferry dove into the water and rescued her son. The boy was not hurt in the accident.
- On June 14, 2016, a two-year-old boy from Elkhorn, Nebraska, was splashing around in the shallows of the Seven Seas Lagoon at 9:15 PM and was attacked by an alligator after he and his family went to a movie night on the beach. The boy's body was found intact at approximately 1:45 PM the following afternoon, in the vicinity of where he went missing; he was found 12 to 15 yards (11 to 14 m) from the shore in about 6 feet (1.8 m) of water. The medical examiner ruled that the child died of "drowning and traumatic injuries." Reuters reported that the resort would put up signs warning guests about alligators.
Resort-wide transportation system
- On March 23, 2010, a Disney transportation bus rear-ended a private charter one near the entrance to the Epcot parking lot. Seven guests aboard the Disney one received minor injuries, while the driver was reported to have received critical ones.
- On April 1, 2010, a nine-year-old boy was run over by a Disney transportation bus at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground while he was riding his bicycle with an 11-year-old friend. A report from the Florida Highway Patrol says that he appeared to turn his bike into the road and ran into the side of the bus, subsequently being dragged under its right-rear tire. He was pronounced dead at the scene. A preliminary report stated that the driver, who has 30 years' experience with Disney, was not impaired or driving recklessly and that charges probably would not be filed, pending a full investigation of the incident. In October, Disney was sued for $15,000 by the boy's mother.
- On December 26, 2010, a 69-year-old man died after stepping in front of a moving Disney transportation bus in the parking lot of Disney's Port Orleans Resort.
- In February 1974, a monorail train crashed into the one ahead. One driver and two passengers were injured.
- On June 26, 1985, a fire engulfed the rear car of the six-car Mark IV Silver monorail train in transit from the Epcot station to the Transportation and Ticket Center. It pre-dated onboard fire detection systems, emergency exits, and evacuation planning. Passengers in the car kicked out side windows and climbed around the side of the train to reach the roof, where they were subsequently rescued by the Reedy Creek Fire Department. One of the passengers who kicked out a window found a D-ring that a Martin Marietta engineer designed and placed in anticipation of such a scenario. Seven were hospitalized for smoke inhalation or other minor injuries. The fire department later determined that the fire started when a flat tire was dragged across the concrete beam and ignited by the frictional heat.
- On August 30, 1991, a monorail train collided with a diesel maintenance work tractor near the Contemporary Resort as the tractor drove closely in front of the train to film it for a commercial. Two employees were treated at a locail hospital for injuries.
- On August 12, 1996, an electrical fire occurred on a train pulling into the Magic Kingdom station. The driver and the five passengers on board exited safely. Two bus drivers who witnessed the fire and assisted were overcome by smoke and treated at a nearby hospital.
- On July 5, 2009, during a failed track switchover from the Epcot line onto the Magic Kingdom express line, Monorail Pink backed into Monorail Purple at the Transportation & Ticket Center station, killing the 21-year-old pilot of Monorail Purple. OSHA and park officials inspected the monorail line and the monorail reopened on July 6, after new sensors and operating procedures were put in place. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed no mechanical problems with the trains or track but did find that the track used in the switchover was not in its proper place for the track transition. The NTSB also noted that Purple's pilot attempted to reverse his train when he saw that there was going to be a collision. Disney suspended three monorail employees as a result of the incident. On October 31, 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its findings on this incident, citing the probable cause as the shop panel operator's failure to properly align the switch beam before the monorail train was directed to reverse through it. Following the accident, the undamaged ends of Purple and Pink were joined together to create Monorail Teal, and the center cars from Purple were combined with two brand-new cab cars (the first built by Bombardier in years) to create Monorail Peach. The Pink and Purple colors have been retired, and front-cab riding has been banned for safety reasons (it was also banned for a period on the Disneyland system, though eventually reinstated).
- In 2005, Walt Disney World reported 773 injuries to OSHA for cast members portraying one of 270 different characters at the parks.
- Of those injuries listed, 282 were related to costuming issues, such as costume weight affecting the head, neck, or shoulders.
- 49 injuries were specifically due to the costume head.
- 107 injuries were caused by park guests' interactions with the characters, where the guest hit, pushed, or otherwise hurt (intentionally or not) the costumed cast member.
- Other items in the report include skin rashes, bruises, sprains, or heat-related issues.
- One change that Disney made to assist character performers was to change rules limiting the overall costume weight to be no more than 25% of the performer's body weight.
- A 27-year-old woman from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in August 2010 against the Disney corporation, claiming that the Donald Duck character groped her during a photo and autograph session in May 2008 while she and her family were visiting Epcot. The lawsuit is for US$200,000 in damages to compensate the alleged victim for negligence, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress. The woman claims to suffer from severe physical injury, emotional anguish and distress, acute anxiety, headaches, nightmares and flashbacks, and other emotional and physical ailments. Part of the lawsuit's basis is a report from the Orange County Sheriff's Office that alleged similar acts by costumed characters have been reported to them 24 times since 2004. The woman did not file a complaint at the time of the incident.
- In September 2004, Disney cast member Michael Chartrand was suspended for allegedly shoving two unnamed Kodak employees while dressed as Goofy at Animal Kingdom on August 29, 2004. They believed that Goofy was a different cast member who was joking around until they were relaxing backstage and saw it was not their friend. Chartrand's attorney stated that they shoved back as part of routine horseplay among cast members meant to entertain. The sheriff's office was considering misdemeanor charges. During the investigation, two cast members came forward saying Chartrand touched their breasts. His lawyer claimed that he was merely looking at their lanyards full of lapel trading pins.
- On June 7, 2009, a 60-year-old man from Cressona, Pennsylvania allegedly touched Minnie Mouse while visiting the Magic Kingdom. He was convicted of misdemeanor battery on August 11.
- On August 6, 2009, a 47-year-old cast member playing the role of a pirate in the Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial show slipped on a puddle of water on the stage and hit his head against the scenery. He was taken to a local hospital with a broken vertebra in his neck and a cut that required 55 stitches. He died four days later due to complications.
- In 1976, a woman filed a lawsuit claiming one of the Three Little Pigs ran up to her at the It's a Small World attraction, grabbed at and fondled her, while exclaiming "Mommy! Mommy!" She claimed to have gained 50 pounds as a result of the incident, and sued Disney for $150,000 in damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and humiliation. The plaintiff dropped charges after Disney's lawyers presented her with a photo of the costume, which had only inoperable stub arms.
- On January 5, 2007, 14-year-old Jerry Monaco Jr. of Greenville, New Hampshire was allegedly punched in the head by a Disney cast member dressed as Tigger during a photo opportunity at Disney-MGM Studios. He was suspended pending the results of the investigation. In his statement to the sheriff's office, he claimed that he was acting in self-defense as Monaco Jr. was pulling on the back of the costume, causing Fedelem to lose his breath. Jeffrey Kaufman, the lawyer who represented Michael Chartrand in an earlier case against Tigger (see below), released his own opinion on the situation. He believed Monaco Jr. instigated the situation and that Fedelem's movements were an involuntary reaction to pain. Kaufman was not representing Fedelem at the time of this statement. On February 15, 2007, the State Attorney General's office announced that no charges would be filed against him.
- In April 2004, Disney cast member Michael Chartrand was arrested for allegedly fondling an unnamed 13-year-old girl and her mother while dressed as Tigger during a photo opportunity at the Magic Kingdom in February. He was charged with one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between 12 and 15 years old, and one count of simple battery. The case went to trial, where the jury's deliberation lasted less than one hour. Chartrand was acquitted of all charges, and returned to work at Disney.
- A 1981 case tried Robert Hill, who was playing Winnie the Pooh in 1978. It was alleged that he slapped a child resulting in her being bruised and having recurring headaches, and possible brain damage. He testified that she was tugging at his costume from behind. When he turned around, he accidentally struck her with Pooh's ear. At one point, he entered the courtroom in the costume and responded to questions while on the witness stand as Pooh would, including dancing a jig. Appearing as Pooh showed the jury that the costume's arms were too low to the ground to slap the girl at her then height. The jury acquitted him after deliberating for 21 minutes. Some time later, however, he admitted that he had deliberately hit her to get her to stop yanking on the costume.
- In August 2016, during the Fantasmic! finale, the performer playing Dopey slipped onto the first deck but landed on the Goofy performer. The Chip performer immediately noticed this and helped the Dopey performer.
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