Adam and I have both avoided sharing anything about this on social media since the events of July 13, 2013 occurred, but given what happened this week, we’ve decided to break the silence and share.
In May of 2013, He and I each bought a fun pass to Busch Gardens (Tampa, Florida), as my ex had purchased passes for each of the kids. We went two or three times without any major incident.
Back information: Adam had some injuries. He had a bad disc in his neck, j no neuropathy in his left arm and hand, an injury in his right foot, and an old soccer injury in his left knee. At the time, he also had a handicap parking permit that he has not renewed, though he really DOES need it.w
When I first met him that year, while he had his limits, he was able to get around, and could even very occasionally run in short bursts (like to catch my dog when she got loose…) But on July 13, his knee was acting up, so when we went to Busch Gardens to celebrate my oldest child’s fourteenth birthday, he rented a wheelchair for the second or third time. The form he signed had promises on it that Busch Gardens would do all within their power to assist him during his stay in the park.
We had no problems until we rode the Congo River Rapids ride. It was Adam’s favorite ride prior to that visit, and one he had ridden before without issue.
We took the wheelchair entrance to the ride. We boarded, as did some people who seemed to be from a Scandinavian country who did not speak English, and two little kids who appeared to be under the age of five who were NOT accompanied by their parents. I don’t recall this part, but a flag was placed on the raft before we left the station. While that flag could have been for Adam, it could also have been for the kids. But Busch Gardens thinks this is important information, so I am including it in this account.
I remember thinking that if the boat flipped, I would probably feel compelled to rescue the kids who were riding without their parents, as I knew my kids could swim, but was not sure of them. I felt anxious about them riding unaccompanied.
Shortly after we rounded the first bend, the water jets were turned off. We later discovered this was because someone in a boat ahead of us had jumped off and swam for shore, climbing out and running off before they could catch him. Our boat slowly cruised the remainder of the ride, taking about twenty to thirty minutes. It was not fun.
When we finally reached the end of the river ride, the conveyor belt was already filled with boats. We were dragged by hook to the end of a metal pier. Adam kept saying he didn’t feel safe getting off there, that he hoped they didn’t expect him to get off there and climb the metal stairs. I assured him that it was unlikely – they knew he had gotten on in a wheelchair – they shouldn’t make him climb a narrow set of stairs. I was thinking more about the stairs at that point. What actually happened took me by surprise.
I also remember feeling just a little queasy by then, and tired of being on the raft.
The foreigners disembarked. Someone came and assisted the little kids off as well. My three kids exited without incident. It was only Adam and I left on the boat. He was in front of me, and I was on the boat and saw what happened.
They had tied the round boat to the pier with a single rope. When Adam went to step off, the boat listed away from the dock. He lost his balance with the movement of the boat and landed hard on his right side. He lay there, looking like a dead fish.
I remember them giving my daughter a hard time about bringing Adam his cane. I remember it took some time for him to get up. The employees did ask if he wanted to see someone. He was in shock, embarrassed, and said he just wanted to get out of there. He slowly made his way up the stairs and back into the wheelchair, said he wanted to get out of there and smoke a cigarette to calm down. He was still in shock.
By the time we reached the smoking area (a few hundred feet from the ride, behind a gift shop) his right leg had started to swell. I went into the gift store and asked for someone to come help him at that point.
Adam insisted I take the two older kids to ride a roller coaster. I shouldn’t have, but did. William didn’t want to go on the ride – he stayed with Adam.
When I came back, they had bandaged his ankle, but Adam said some young guy from risk management had refused his request to send him to the hospital. According to Adam, the “kid” had said that nobody saw it, nothing had happened, and that if we had our own insurance, Adam could go on his own dime. I took Adam back to the front of the ride and got the name (Susie) of one of the attendants who witnessed the accident.
Adam tried to call risk management (they had given him a card) as we slowly made our way out of the park. We did let the kids go on one more ride, as Adam was trying to make the call, hoping to hear from someone, trying to decide whether to go to the ER for the increasing pain. He was not insured at that time.
We drove back to Gainesville before Adam went to the ER. They did some X-rays, found that he had not broken any bones in his leg, but had some soft tissue damage.
It was a week before he returned, still in pain, having difficulty urinating, unable to stand for any length of time, with pain in his back as well. When he went that following week for the pain, he was admitted to Shands. They initially admitted him because his heart rate and blood pressure were elevated, but they also performed tests and discovered that he had a slipped disc in his back, and he was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia.
Busch Gardens would not return any phone calls, so Adam contacted an attorney and filed suit.
In addition to the pain, he suffered ongoing psychological issues, but because he was impoverished, he was charged little for them.
Over the course of the last three and a half years, we have all gone to depositions that were repeatedly called off and rescheduled at the last minute, causing me to waste time off from my job. The court ordered mediation that was supposed to occur last December was called off at the last minute (all on their end.) This dragged on for almost four years.
The mediation was rescheduled for Monday the 24th. We had some transportation issues making it to Tampa, and by the time I was able to get Adam there, it was the very end.
Busch Gardens offered $5,000. Because he “missed” the mediation, we are responsible for the full costs for the mediator, our attorney, their travel, everything. They further stated that if he did NOT accept their $5,000 settlement (before costs), they would counter sue (for filing a frivolous suit?) and take us to court for all of their costs.
Nobody asked if Adam had ongoing medical costs, and we made the mistake of not offering that information because we weren’t asked, but he does.
Florida DOES limit damages.
But his actual damages are greater than $5,000, and he will be suffering from this accident for the rest of his life. His hernia was one of the factors that prevented him from being able to assist his mother, who died unexpectedly when Adam couldn’t make the drive out to her house in December 2015 because he was having trouble getting out of bed and moving around.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because we do not believe Busch Gardens acted in good faith in any of this. Because we do not appreciate the fact that they are using bullying tactics to attempt to force a settlement. Because none of this is just or right. They claim that the red flag they put on the boat meant they did all they could to keep him safe. Excuse me – was it a magic flag? Because nobody offered to take us up the ramp to where the boat was secure. Nobody offered to help him off the boat. Nobody would even bring him his cane, and they fought my daughter when she did.
Yes, he should have insisted on medical care before he left that ramp. But he was in shock. And this should not have happened.
Yes, he had a bad knee before the incident. His OTHER knee. And Busch Gardens knew he had a handicap before they made him get off an unsecured boat at a location where passengers are not typically asked to disembark.
I watched #Blackfish AFTER the accident, or I probably would never have gone to Busch Gardens that day, as they are owned and operated by Sea World. Sea World has a history of blatant disregard for its employees and guests.
Why am I writing this? Because I want people to know. I want them to share this. I want Sea World and Busch Gardens to stop getting away with this sort of behavior. I don’t want what happened to Adam to happen to someone else. We thought the law suit would help. Now we realize, it won’t. Maybe, just maybe, my words will. It’s all I have.