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Man to appeal suit against Disney over 2006 injury

Dave Peterson says exculpatory clauses in Florida put consumers at risk

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Dave Peterson is threatening to crawl across the state on his hands and knees to get people to pay attention. Or, he says, he might walk across Orange County dragging a cross on his back when he’s in Orlando in August. Whatever he decides to do, he says, he wants it to be big. He wants people to notice.

“I’m gonna make a big stink,” he says. “I’m not gonna take my clothes off – I won’t go that far – but whatever is going to get the most attention, I’ll do it. I want to get in front of the cameras and tell the people of Florida what’s going on here.”

Whether the cameras will show up remains to be seen, but Peterson, who’s in his 60s, says he will be in Orlando on Aug. 6, when he attempts to revive a dismissed lawsuit his son filed against Walt Disney World in 2010, four years after suffering an injury while walking around a trade show at the park’s Wide World of Sports. Owen Peterson, who was 22 at the time, was at Disney to participate in a paintball tournament. Two days before he was scheduled to play, he was at the tournament trade show with his girlfriend when an advertising balloon, tied to a tree on that windy day, blew down and smashed him in the head. Peterson says he was knocked to his knees, stunned.

Peterson thought he was OK, but a Disney representative (Peterson says it was someone named named Dustin Embry) suggested that he go to the hospital to get checked out, and said that Disney would cover the bill. He was, after all, a Disney guest. At the hospital emergency room, doctors found no broken bones and did not diagnose neurological damage, so Peterson was given prescriptions for pain medication and muscle relaxers; he was told he could participate in the paintball tournament and engage in physical activity “as tolerated.”

The next day, Peterson decided he did want to play, even though he had a stiff neck and a headache. So on Nov. 9, he did what most people do when they’re about to take part in a sporting event: He signed a liability waiver presented to him without giving it much thought. On Nov. 10, he played with his team in the competition (not very well, his father says); they were eliminated and Peterson went home.

Ten days later, Owen Peterson was still having headaches and neck pain. He woke up one morning and says he could not see across the room. He went to a local emergency room and he was diagnosed with “post-concussive syndrome” and traumatic brain injury. Immediately, he realized that his run-in with the giant advertising balloon may have been more serious than he’d thought. He had never received any money from Disney for his hospital bills, and he was told that he wasn’t going to. Despite the fact the he was injured at a trade show before the paintball tournament even began, and that he didn’t sign the participation waiver until the day after his injury, Disney and the organizers of the event told him that the fine print said that he’d signed away his right to hold anyone responsible for anything. Even if the injury happened before he signed the waiver. Even if the injury was entirely their fault.

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