Larry Panayi lost his leg in an automobile accident while serving in the U.S. military. Since then, Panayi, who sometimes uses a prosthetic leg, has been able to find myriad ways to continue performing his daily activities.
Like millions of other people who attend Six Flags amusement parks each year, Panayi enjoys riding roller coasters. But when he visited Six Flags’ Arlington, Texas location in July 2013, Six Flags informed him he was no longer allowed on 13 of the rides, consisting of nearly all the theme park’s “high thrill rides.”
Similarly, Panayi was denied access to these rides when he visited in January 2014.
On July 10, he challenged Six Flags’ policy in a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
“The Extremity Requirements in question as applied to Panayi are not necessary for the safe operation of the rides in question,” the lawsuit states. “Panayi could safely ride each of the rides, with or without his prosthetic, as the case may be, and has ridden many of them in the past without incident, without injury to himself or others, and without posing a direct threat to the health or safety of himself or others, but is now prevented from doing so by Defendant’s Extremity Requirements and Defendant’s failure to accommodate his disability as required by the ADA and the Texas Human Resources Code.”
Six Flag’s new policy, the subject of multiple lawsuits, was implemented in 2011, following a tragedy at Six Flags’ Buffalo location where an Iraq War veteran, who had lost both his legs, fell from a roller coaster. The policy provides specific requirements for each ride, categorically exempting certain individuals from ridership.
For example, the Conquistador, a swing ride, requires that riders “have two (2) natural functioning legs with two (2) natural feet in order to ride.”
The lawsuit contends that such categorical exceptions violate federal and state discrimination laws.
“Defendant has also discriminated against Panayi on the basis of his disability by failing to provide such auxiliary aids or services as may be needed to allow Panayi to ride the rides – e.g., a car or seat with an enhanced passenger restraint system – even where the provision of such auxiliary aids or services would not fundamentally alter the nature of the rides or Defendant’s provision of the rides to non-disabled persons, and would not result in an undue burden, i.e., significant difficulty or expense,” the lawsuit states.