A gondola hangs open on a Ferris wheel after family members fell from it in May during the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival. (Port Townsend Police Department)

A gondola hangs open on a Ferris wheel after family members fell from it in May during the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival. (Port Townsend Police Department)

Funtastic responds to lawsuit stemming from Ferris wheel fall in Port Townsend

TACOMA — The company being sued after three people fell from a Ferris wheel in Port Townsend last spring has officially responded to the federal lawsuit, denying any negligence or liability in the fall.

Fun-Tastic Shows of Oregon responded to the lawsuit Dec. 14, saying it is the fault of Shawn Swartwood, 59; her partner, Crystal Groth, 47; and Groth’s 7-year-old son, Mikhail Groth Swartwood, that they were all injured in the May 18 fall at the Rhododendron Festival.

The Port Townsend family members who fell from the Ferris wheel during the Rhododendron Festival initially filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Superior Court against the ride’s operator for damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and lost income, but it was moved to federal court in November.

The three were riding the Phoenix Wheel, a 40-foot Ferris wheel, when the gondola flipped upside-down, dumping the three people roughly 15 feet onto the ride’s metal platform.

“Several independent witnesses have provided statements to the effect that Plaintiffs were observed standing and moving around Gondola #2 while it was in motion,” Fun-Tastic’s response says.

“Plaintiffs were warned, verbally and in writing, that they must remain seated at all times.

“The Plaintiffs’ failure to follow the warning and remain seated is the sole proximate cause of their alleged injuries.”

Attorneys said previously that the three had moved to one side of the gondola so they could take a selfie.

The lawsuit alleges that the cause of the fall was due to negligence on Funtastic’s part in both the operation of the Ferris wheel, employee training and the lack of an adequate number of employees monitoring the ride while it was in use.

Fun-Tastic denies that claim.

“The Phoenix Wheel was appropriately staffed at the time of the Plaintiffs’ ride,” the company wrote. “Fun-Tastic expressly denies any allegation, suggestion or implication that the number of employees working on the Phoenix Wheel is in any way related to the Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.”

The Ferris wheel in question has been put back into service since the Rhododendron Festival. It was approved by a state inspector in June, received a new operating permit July 7 and was cleared for use in Washington and Oregon.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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