Court allows amusement park death lawsuit to move forward

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The wife of a central Iowa amusement park employee killed in an accident at the park in 2016 can proceed with a federal lawsuit and the park’s insurance company may have to pay damages, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court had to consider whether the insurance company for Adventureland Park in Altoona could be held responsible for damages for the death of the worker.

Gladys Booher of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, filed a lawsuit against Stuart Glen, an employee who ran Adventureland's Raging River ride. Booher’s husband, Stephen Booher was working as a ride assistant at the park in the summer of 2016. He seated guests into the cars that look like large rubber tubes floating on a river.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Iowa, claims that Glen started the ride before the ride assistants gave the all-clear on June 7, 2016. As a result, Booher and another assistant were thrown from their platform into the conveyor belt that drives the ride’s cars. The other worker managed to escape but Booher was pulled into the vortex between the ride’s cars and a concrete wall. He died four days later from head injuries.

Booher is seeking damages including loss of future earnings, physical and mental pain and suffering, burial expenses and punitive damages.

Adventureland’s insurer, Florida-based T.H.E. Insurance Co., challenged the lawsuit in Iowa state court claiming it had no duty to defend or pay claims for Glen. The company said Booher’s claim of gross negligence was not covered under the policy because it wasn't an accident as defined in the policy language.

A district court judge agreed and found there was no coverage under the insurance policy. Booher appealed.

The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that Booher’s lawsuit presents enough of a question for a jury to decide. The ruling allows the federal lawsuit to move forward.

Booher’s attorney, Fred Dorr said the ruling establishes that the insurer has an obligation to defend and potentially pay damages if a jury finds Glen was negligent. Iowa law defines gross negligence as a wanton, willful disregard or neglect of the safety of another person.

Glen's attorney it was an unfortunate accident caused by a mistake.

“He's heartbroken about what happened. He wishes it hadn't happened and says he made a mistake, that it was an accident but an accident is not gross negligence,” said attorney Guy Cook. No park guests were ever in danger, Cook said.

An attorney for the insurance company did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.