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Iraq Vet Plunges to death from Roller Coaster in Upstate New York

According to the Associated Press, the investigation is continuing into the death of a man who died after a 208 foot fall from a roller coaster in Buffalo New York. The man, Sergeant James Thomas Hackemer, was an Iraq war veteran who had lost both of his legs in a roadside bombing. After the roadside bombing, Hackemer, a father or two, suffered two strokes and spent six weeks in a coma.

Hackemer was ejected from the roller coaster on Friday at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort. The coaster, Ride of Steel, is a popular attraction at the theme park which is located in upstate New York between Rochester and Buffalo.

The park’s website reports that the Ride of Steel roller coaster will remain closed until the authorities have completed their investigation of Hackemer’s death.

Questions remain whether Hackemer should have been allowed on the ride. Dennis Speigel, an amusement park industry consultant believes that two things are involved in an accident like this, "One is rider responsibility and then there is operator responsibility, and those two issues have to homogenize," Speigel said Sunday. "This just seems to me that it was a bad decision on both parts."

Is the park responsible for this accident? The relatives of Hackemer say no. According to Jody Hackemer, the sister of the victim, "It's nobody's fault. It was an accident. James thought it wasn't an issue."

Hackemer, who had recently been fitted with a new set of prosthetic legs, may not have been wearing them on the ride. Although this roller coaster did not specifically bar people without legs from riding, it did have posted rules which specified that guests with "certain body proportions" may not be able to ride. Other roller coasters in the park, specifically the Predator and the Motocoaster, did not allow individuals who did not have legs to ride.

Although it is not clear why Hackemer was allowed on the ride, there has been increased sensitivity to members of the military. Some claim Hackemer’s military service record may have played a part in allowing him on the ride.

Spiegal, a past president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade association recognized that, "Here we have a situation where that individual has seen some pretty incredible things, I would imagine, and if I had to guess, was saying, `I can ride this. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.' And then you begin dealing with the forces of physics and it's a whole different situation."

Catie Marks, another one of Hackemer’s sisters told park officials that no one asked him any questions or objected to his decision to ride the coaster. Jody Hackemer maintains his brother died doing something he loved, "The minute he was on that ride, he probably felt the happiest and most normal he's felt in 3 1/2 years.” Other injured veterans agree with Jody claiming it is completely normal that Hackemer would have wanted to do things that he had done before his accident.

Industry analysts claim that injuries on permanently located amusement park rides are extremely rare; in fact, IAAPA's statistics indicate chances could be as little as 1 in 9 million.

Filing a Premise Liability Claim

Premise liability claims are generally won if the injured party can prove that they were injured on another person’s property due to unsafe conditions or from the negligence of the building owner or management. The most common premise liability claims include slips and falls, assaults, animal attacks and drowning.

The relatives of James Hackemer have given no indication that they plan to file a premise liability claim against the park, but if they decided they wanted to they would have to prove their brother was killed because the owners or operators of the amusement park failed to make their property safe or their decision to allow Hackemer on the ride was negligent.

What if you have been injured on someone else’s property due to their negligence or because their property was unsafe? If you have suffered a premise liability injury you will need to collect police records, medical records, witness statements and photographs. All of your evidence should be preserved and given to your personal injury lawyer for review.

There is a statute of limitations for filing all personal injury claims. Failure to file within the statute of limitations may eliminate your right to compensation. Personal injury lawyers understand personal injury law and can answer all of your premise liability questions.

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