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Ferris wheel lawsuit heads to mediation

Matthew Lane • Updated Oct 12, 2018 at 11:03 AM

GREENEVILLE — A federal lawsuit stemming from a Ferris wheel accident at the Greene County Fair in 2016 is going to mediation.

Three families filed separate lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Greeneville last year over the incident. Since then, the three lawsuits have been combined into one.

The lawsuits name as defendants Family Attractions Amusement of Georgia (the company that operated the rides for the fair), the owners of FAA, High-Lite Rides of South Carolina (the manufacturer of the Ferris wheel) and Michael O. Howard (the designer and builder of the Ferris wheel).

According to court records and published reports, the accident involved one of the gondolas overturning, sending three young girls tumbling out and falling more than 30 feet to the ground.

Inspectors hired by FAA and the Greene County Fair found that worn-out rivet fasteners on the bottom of the gondola were the cause of the accident. The worn rivets allowed a piece of trim to come loose and lodge in the frame of the wheel, thus causing the gondola to tip over.

In a response to the lawsuit, the defendants claim they’re not liable because the accident was not the result of any fault or neglect on their behalf.

ORDERED TO MEDIATION

All of the plaintiffs and defendants held a conference call with U.S. Magistrate Judge Cliff Corker on Aug. 30 to check on the status of the case and see how discovery was going. It was during this call that both sides believed they had sufficient information to engage in meaningful mediation.

As a result, Corker ordered mediation to take place and be completed by Oct. 29.

ABOUT THE ACCIDENT

According to the lawsuit, Michael and Patsy Laws went to the Greene County Fair on the day it opened, Aug. 8, and their daughter took a ride on the Ferris wheel with two other girls. When the gondola reached a height of approximately 40 feet, the aluminum skid plate on the bottom of the gondola caught on a cross brace of the Ferris wheel.

This caused the gondola to upend and collide with another gondola, ejecting all three girls to the ground below.

As a result of the incident, the Laws’ daughter suffered extreme fright, shock and serious bodily injury, the lawsuit states, including fractures of four lumbar vertebra, a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and a shoulder injury.

Jason and Kimberly Reynolds of Greene County took their 10-year-old daughter, Kayla, and her 6-year-old sister, Briley, to the fair that same day. They were the other two girls ejected from the gondola. Kayla broke her arm while Briley suffered a traumatic brain injury.

The third lawsuit was filed on behalf of Lorena Cowhy, who was in an adjacent gondola with her 5-year-old granddaughter.

During her ride on the Ferris wheel, Cowhy said she felt something “click,” then immediately fell out of her seat and onto the floor of the basket. Her granddaughter also fell out of the seat, with Cowhy grabbing her and tucking her in her chest in the floor of the basket to keep from falling out, the lawsuit states.

The fire department eventually came to the fair and rescued Cowhy and her granddaughter with a ladder truck.

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