Secret settlements in slide injury cases

December 23, 2008 7:48:53 PM PST
There are safety concerns at AT&T Park. ABC7 News has learned that several people have accepted confidential settlements after being seriously injured on the ball park's Coke bottle slide.

A jury awarded Terree Roush $185,000 last November. It was a trial that went largely unnoticed. The 47-year-old Fresno woman sued Coca-Cola and the San Francisco Giants after she hurt herself on the Coke slide called "The Guzzler."

It happened in October of 2002 during a home game of the World Series at Pacific Bell Park, now called AT&T Park.

Roush described what happened as she slid down the steep twists and turns of the giant tubular slide.

"I went to the left and as I was coming back, it was so quick, that my foot just caught like that and it just completely bent it to the side -- it shattered it," said Roush. .

Coca-Cola owns the slide and the Giants operate it. In court, both companies maintained the Coke slide was safe.

"They first denied there was any record of any injuries," said Fred Meis, Roush's attorney.

During the trial, Meis came across a confidential memo by ballpark management. It listed the names of 13 people who were treated for injuries on the Coke slide during two baseball seasons -- 2001 and 2002. Also listed were three other people who were hurt in May of 2003.

"We figured out that it was one reported serious injury on The Guzzler every 10 games," said Meis.

ABC7 contacted most of the 16 people. Almost all described serious injuries -- a twisted back, shattered knees, broken legs and ankles. Two people threatened to sue but eventually settled confidentially. Antoinette Douglas was one of them.

"As I was going down it, my leg got stuck on the inside, it hyper-extended over my head and broke in two places," said Douglas.

Douglas agreed to speak with ABC7 on condition she not disclose the amount of the settlement.

Douglas was injured when she took her son to a Giants game on Mother's Day 2001. Like almost all the others we spoke with, she wore tennis shoes. Douglas said they acted like a brake against the sharply twisting metal slide.

"Because of that traction, it just kept me from moving. So it kept half of my body from moving, but the other half kept going," said Douglas who was surprised that the Coke slide requires people to wear shoes. "It did seem odd to me because I have a child and every slide we went to they made us take the shoes off. Even if you went to a McDonald's with their little slides, you had to take your shoes off."

If there's an accident on a ride in an amusement park or on a water slide, the California Occupational Safety and Health Department would shut it down until its inspected.

But ABC7 has learned that since the stadium is not considered an amusement park, there is no government oversight like Cal-OSHA for the Coke slide, no regulatory agency that enforces safety inspection after accidents.

"Certainly, it would be good to have it. Obviously we've been trying to get it but it doesn't happen," said certified playground safety inspector David Spease.

But all slides must comply with state playground safety guidelines. Spease helped draft those regulations.

"Play equipment in general is supposed to be inspected and approved before it's open to the public," said Spease.

Inspections are done by safety inspectors like Spease who are hired and paid by companies to inspect their playground equipment.

The Giants declined our request for an interview. Instead, they released a statement saying in part: "Several million people have enjoyed the slides in the Coca-Cola fan lot... the slides are certified, safe and will continue to operate at ballpark events."

But the Giants would not allow us see that safety certificate. According to Spease, they don't have to show it to the public.

"The inspection is confidential. I give it to the owner of the project. Period. That's as far as it goes," said Spease.

A spokesman from Coca-Cola's headquarters in Atlanta told us the company would defer all statements to the Giants.


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