Disney visitors sue over injuries from five-story water slide

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published July 9, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Florida’s Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have seen a flurry of lawsuits after visitors were injured on Humunga Kowabunga, the park’s five-story high-speed enclosed waterslide. 

  • One patient experienced a brain injury after falling unconscious inside the high-speed slide, while another sustained organ damage after water was violently forced inside her vagina.

  • Emergency physicians say water parks pose various threats to visitors and that MDs should be aware of and ready to handle injuries that come their way this summer.

Certain visitors to Florida’s Walt Disney Parks and Resorts did not experience the magic and happiness they signed up for after being injured on one of the park’s massive waterslides. In May, a guest experienced a brain injury after being banged around the park’s five-story high-speed Humunga Kowabunga waterslide, news reports say.[]

The guest, Laura Reyes-Merino, says she fell unconscious while “banging inside the slide.” Reyes-Merino’s lawsuit against the resort seeks $50,000 in damages and claims that the park was negligent for failing to maintain the ride.[] 

According to The Independent, “her fiancé and his mother found her limp body at the end of the ride and ‘frantically asked the attendants to help’…Those attendants said that they were not lifeguards and would have to find someone to help.” Court documents note that when a lifeguard finally approached, they said they could not help or touch Reyes-Merino. They then called an ambulance. 

“Had Defendant had lifeguards at the end of the ride to watch and help guests coming off the ride, Plaintiff’s brain injury would not have occurred as she wouldn’t have been drowning in the water coughing up blood,” the court documents continue.

Last year, the same waterslide caused another park visitor to experience “severe vaginal lacerations and internal organ damage” while going down the slide.[] 

While being launched down the vertical drop—at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour—the visitor experienced water being “violently forced inside her”—a potential risk that particularly affects people with vaginas. 

This guest suffered “immediate and severe pain internally,” according to news reports. When she went to stand up, “blood began rushing from between her legs.” The incident also caused the woman’s bowels to “protrude through her abdominal wall.” Although guests are instructed to cross their legs as they go down the slide, this particular guest was thrown into the air on the way down, causing her to uncross her legs. She also filed a lawsuit. 

Micro Survey Orange CTA

What's the most common summer injury?

Kenneth Perry, MD, FACEP, an emergency physician, says that amusement parks pose other risks, too. For example, he says, certain attractions have a higher gravitational force (g-force), leading to syncope in certain patients. “If this occurs on a roller coaster…the individual will just continue through the ride, then come back to their senses when the g-force reduces and blood flow returns to normal. In an environment with water attractions, however, this loss of consciousness is obviously concerning given the risk of drowning,” he says. 

“There are also stories of individuals, especially children, who can have problems with some of the water return systems in pools and water attractions,” Dr. Perry notes. “The water returns can have a very high pressure associated with them, which can pull a child to the bottom or even do damage to organs if the person gets held to the water return for too long.”

Andrea Austin, MD, an emergency physician at Emergent Medical Associates, says she has personally treated numerous injuries from water parks, with one “severe injury affecting the child's spinal cord.” Aside from waterslide use, common injuries arise from running and slipping or diving into shallow areas, Dr. Austin says.

She encourages parents to supervise their kids at water parks and to ensure beforehand that children are well-versed in the rides’ rules. “I also recommend they cover the basics of ensuring enough sunscreen, swimwear that won't catch on the slides, and eye protection, like goggles. Wave pools can also be very challenging swimming environments,” she suggests. Parents should be reminded that drowning can happen in just a few inches of water.

“Be extra cautious if your child has underlying medical problems like a seizure disorder, as they could lose consciousness while in the water. If your child has allergies, ensure you have EpiPen packed [or] available,” Dr. Austin stresses. 

Jared L. Ross, MD, the president and founder of EMSEC, says that some of these injuries are preventable. The use of alcohol or drugs and excess weight limit issues could contribute to certain accidents or issues, he notes.

“Lifeguards also contribute to the safety of the rides—making sure the slide is clear before allowing the next rider to enter, avoiding collisions,” Dr. Ross says. “As a rider, it is important to follow the rules and directions for each slide, including keeping your ankles crossed and legs together to prevent groin or straddle injuries,” he reminds future visitors. 

What this means for you

Dr. Austin says physicians should keep a few things in mind during the summer—the time patients are likely to get injured at a water park. First, she says, remember that not all patients arrive at the emergency room in an ambulance. “These patients may present in private cars,” she says, so be on the lookout. 

“Don't forget that cervical spine precautions, when indicated, and some spinal cord injuries, may have delayed symptoms, such as with central cord syndrome,” Dr. Austin adds. “If the mechanism of injury is concerning, ensure the work-up takes this into account, as initially [the patient] may have minimal complaints due to the adrenaline from the accident. Also, early on, they may have minimal signs of trauma.”

All physicians in the emergency department should have appropriate emergency equipment for drowning patients of all ages. “Consider medical simulations/drills to prepare your teams,” Dr. Austin says.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter