After long delay, hearing in Universal ride injury suit begins

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'We’re kind of in a holding pattern.'

The lawsuit filed by a Brazilian woman against Universal after her child was seriously injured on a theme park ride has faced lengthy delays from the pandemic, said attorneys on both sides who convened in court this week.

The then-11-year-old boy crushed his foot and his leg as the faux bicycles pulled up into the exit platform at the end of the E.T. Adventure ride in 2019, his mother, Roberta Perez, said in the lawsuit she filed that same year in Orange County Circuit Court.

One of the family’s attorneys told the media last year the boy broke toes on his left foot as well as his tibia and fibula. At the time, Universal self-reported the boy’s injuries as “foot pain” to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the agency where theme parks are supposed to disclose visitors’ most serious injuries.

Since the accident, the boy has struggled to return to a normal life, the family’s attorney, Rachel Harman, told Circuit Judge Denise Kim Beamer during Wednesday’s court hearing.

He was held back in school which “caused some pretty significant trouble for him regarding his education in Brazil” while he recovers and undergoes treatment, Harman said.

“They’ve made eight-figure demands in this case. This isn’t some $100,000 claim,” Universal attorney Nick Freeman said during the hearing.

Both sides acknowledged the case has stalled with lengthy pandemic-related delays that are outside of their control.

The lawsuit was originally scheduled for trial in March 2021, but travel restrictions stopped the family — many of whom witnessed the accident at Universal Studios Florida — from traveling to the United States for depositions last summer.

“I can’t go there,” Freeman said. “They cannot come here.”

Further complicating the issue, it’s illegal for American lawyers to take depositions in Brazil. The boy’s family isn’t allowed to even appear in a deposition via Zoom from their home country, the attorneys said.

“I’m not blaming the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s counsel. It’s just a weird situation,” Freeman said. “We’re currently set on the docket for August of 2022, and who knows what will happen between now and then.”

Meanwhile, the family’s attorney wants nonbinding arbitration to resolve the case — which Universal is against.

“At this point, it seems that this case is just getting unreasonably delayed, I understand that there are legitimate and uncontrollable circumstances,” Harman said. “The reason we filed the motion for arbitration is because we understand that there’s all these problems in place, but we would like to try and move the case forward as much as possible.”

Freeman argued he is against going before an arbitrator when attorneys haven’t deposed the boy’s family yet to learn about the boy’s injuries and other details from the case.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” he told the judge who plans to rule on the request for arbitration within 30 days.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.


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