Disney wants to apply the baseball rule of personal risk assessment to slowly but surely re-opening its theme parks at the height of a viral pandemic that is killing thousands of Americans by the day. At least there are branded masks?
After recently re-opening Disneyland Shanghai with social distancing measures and other orders in place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Disney has turned its eyes closer to home as it contemplates just how and when it will re-open its U.S.-based theme parks. The first phase of that program begun today in Orlando, Florida, with the re-opening of Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs—the shopping complex that isn’t a theme park itself, but home to restaurants and shopping locations that will act as hubs for people to gather.
Disney’s re-opening of the complex includes a lot of measures on its own behalf, including temperature checks and signs displayed in stores reminding people to remain six feet apart, wear masks, and use contactless payment.
But attempting to ensure people continue to safely keep themselves protected—even as they’re invited to participate in the sorts of activities that deliberately abstaining from has helped Florida remain less of a hot spot for the spread of covid-19 in comparison to other states—is already proving even on day one to be a challenging procedure.
One additional feature that is eyebrow-raising, then, is Disney’s addition of liability signs mixed among its reminders for returning guests to practice social distancing measures. As photographed by Walt Disney World Today, placards throughout Disney Springs also carry a warning that by choosing to show up at the re-opened space, basically, it’s on you if you contract the novel coronavirus.
“An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the sign reads in part. “COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death.”
“By visiting Walt Disney World, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19,” the sign cheerily concludes, before signing off with “Help keep each other healthy and safe.” The same message was added earlier this week to the official Walt Disney World resort website.
It’s messaging that draws upon a legal waiver is known colloquially in U.S. tort law as the “baseball rule,” inspired by two legal cases in the early 1910s. Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co. and Wells v. Minneapolis Baseball & Athletic Ass’n gave way to decades of legal precedent in various forms across the U.S., protecting ballparks from being sued if a guest is injured by a wayward ball.
As the Hollywood Reporter notes in a new feature about the potential legal risks businesses and companies like Disney might face as they begin to open up—in and of itself a distinctly risky measure at this stage of the pandemic’s spread, in spite of President Trump’s urges—it’s not necessarily terminology that’s going to protect Disney from potential legal cases. Florida is a state that operates under a comparative negligence standard, which means that if someone does contract the novel coronavirus and can feasibly link their infection to a Disney establishment, the resort could potentially face a legal battle to some apportion of fault.
Yes, people should know the risks they’re taking on by choosing to break their own personal quarantines just to get some Joffrey’s Coffee or buy a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. But that won’t entirely protect Disney if cases of covid-19 end up getting directly linked to its parks as it slowly begins to bring its attractions back into action.
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