and what year is this....
|photo: Joseph Masci, 16, plays football with his mom in the back yard of his Millstone home. The Masci family has sued Six Flags Great Adventure over safety rules that bar him from most rides|
article by Thomas Zambito | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Jan. 2, 2015
A New Jersey teenager born with missing parts on all four limbs may get his chance to convince a jury that Six Flags Great Adventure was wrong to stop him from boarding one of its thrill rides in 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano, in a ruling issued Wednesday, turned back an effort by Six Flags’ lawyers to dismiss the lawsuit Joseph Masci and his parents filed against the company in 2012.
Six Flags said the decision to prevent the Millstone teen from riding its Green Lantern ride when he was 14 was influenced by a reevaluation of its safety practices following the 2011 death of a disabled Iraq War veteran at a Buffalo theme park.
But Pisano said Six Flags must prove the decision to keep Joseph off the thrill ride was linked to an actual safety concern and not the teen’s outward disability.
“If Six Flags was discriminating against Joseph based on the appearance of his disability rather than any legitimate safety concerns, Defendant’s safety defenses would appear to be irrelevant,” Pisano wrote.
At issue, Pisano wrote, was whether Joseph, who was born without feet, a right arm that ends at his elbow and a left arm that ends in a malformed hand, could grip a safety bar to hold himself in place.
“From the record in front of it, the Court gathers that the real issue is whether Joseph had a functioning arm to qualify under the ridership requirements for the vast majority of the rides,” Pisano noted.
A functioning arm, according to the park’s safety guide, was “a full arm with the ability to be flexed at the elbow and a minimum of three full fingers with the ability to hold on with a firm grip,” the judge wrote.
Sean Kirby, the attorney for Six Flags, could not immediately be reached for comment.
In an April court filing he outlined the company’s defense.
“While Six Flags is sympathetic to Plaintiff Joseph Masci’s situation, it cannot ignore the guidelines of its ride manufacturers, cannot violate New Jersey state law, and cannot, in good faith, ignore its own determinations regarding safe ridership, in order to allow Joseph Masci access to these rides,” Kirby wrote.
Workers at the Jackson Township park precluded Joseph from getting on all but two of its rides – ones that Joseph called “the two most boring rides in existence.”
In a June letter to the court, Joseph said that ever since he was tall enough he’d pursued his passion for thrill rides at Six Flags with his parents’ consent. In 2009 he and his cousins rode El Toro, then one of the fastest wooden roller coasters in the country.
“Instead of getting on the ride I was escorted to the side and I could see all of the staff members whispering to each other as they secretly tried to glance at my arms and legs,” he recalled of the day in April 2012 when he was denied access to the Green Lantern.
“I was so angry and I did not understand why I was not able to go on the same rides I had gone on for years,” he added.
He vowed to pursue his case even if it meant a challenge at the nation’s highest court.
“If need be I will fight all the way to the Supreme Court!,” Joseph wrote. “I will not back down because I am not just doing this for myself but for all the discriminated people in the world who are told they cannot do something just because of how their body looks.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Joseph and his mother, accuses Six Flags of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
Following the July 2011 death of James Hackemer, a veteran who lost his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, at the Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort, Six Flags conducted audits of ridership requirements at all its parks, according to Pisano.
That led to a new directive requiring riders to have “at least one fully formed and functioning leg absent a prosthetic device and at least one fully formed and functioning arm absent a prosthetic device,” the judge wrote.
The park also banned prosthetics out of a concern that they could come unhinged and strike others.
In his ruling, Pisano also turned down a request by lawyers for the Mascis to exlude the testimony of several Six Flags employees who took part in the ridership audit.
Thomas Zambito may be reached followed on Twitter@TomZambito.
Find NJ.com on Facebook.