A gondola hangs open on a Ferris wheel after family members fell from it in May.

A gondola hangs open on a Ferris wheel after family members fell from it in May.

Lawsuit filed after fall from Ferris wheel

PORT TOWNSEND — Port Townsend family members who fell from a Ferris wheel during the Rhododendron Festival have filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Superior Court against the ride’s operator, Funtastic, for damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and lost income.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 6 by the family’s lawyer, Aston Dennis of the Washington Law Center.

Shawn Swartwood, 59; her partner, Crystal Groth, 47; and Groth’s 7-year-old son, Mikhail Groth Swartwood, were all injured in the May 18 fall at the Rhody Festival.

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

Groth and her son suffered minor injuries and were treated at Jefferson Healthcare hospital and released the same day. Swartwood, who fell from the gondola first, had the most extensive injuries, including facial fractures and two broken ankles, according to Dennis. She was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment, followed by a stay in a rehabilitation center.

Swartwood is still recovering from her injuries, Dennis said.

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.

“There was inadequate training for those employees,” Dennis said. “They were not given instructions ever, let alone in the language they speak and read, which is Spanish.”

Funtastic is maintaining that the fall was caused by the family standing up in the gondola after being instructed not to, according to attorney Pat Buchanan, who is representing Funtastic.

Buchanan said all the eyewitnesses interviewed at the Rhody Festival saw the family standing up in the gondola before it tipped.

“That’s what caused them to tip, because they all moved to one side to take a selfie,” Buchanan said. “It’s certainly sad and tragic since the family was injured, but Funtastic will aggressively be defending this.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Funtastic destroyed evidence.

According to the lawsuit filed by Dennis, Funtastic had a lawyer on-site after the incident, and on May 24, that lawyer advised that “all evidence is to be preserved including the actual ride.”

Funtastic had its own experts inspect the ride June 27 and approved the ride for service. According to Dennis, it wasn’t until June 30 that the family was able to send their own expert in to inspect the ride.

According to Dennis, they noticed changes made to the ride since photos were taken May 18, after the incident. According to the lawsuit, the extensive damage on the gondola that tipped over in May was not present during the June inspection.

“So there’s a variety of things, let alone that we’re alleging that they destroyed evidence,” Dennis said.

According to Buchanan, these accusation are false.

“It’s absolutely false and Ashton Dennis knows it’s false,” Buchanan said.

The Ferris wheel in question has been put back into service since the Rhody 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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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected]peninsuladailynews.com.

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