Deanna Dewberry, NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit
Six Flags Over Texas employees offer conflicting accounts in the death of Rosa Esparza who fell to her death from the Texas Giant last July, NBC 5 has obtained newly released court documents.
The family of the Dallas woman who fell to her death from a Six Flags roller coaster says the theme park is dragging its feet in court and wants it sanctioned amid a legal battle in the case over photographs of the woman's body.
In new court documents, the family of Rosa Esparza asked the court to sanction Six Flags Over Texas, arguing it is intentionally slowing depositions and delaying the discovery process in the case.
Esparza, 52, was killed when she was cut in half after falling from the New Texas Giant during the coaster's first steep descent on July 19, 2013. According to the Tarrant County medical examiner, Esparza was ejected from her seat and fell about 75 feet to the ground below. The autopsy revealed she died from multiple traumatic injuries from the fall.
The family is seeking at least $1 million in a lawsuit filed last fall that alleges the park ignored dangers. Six Flags has denied liability in the case and said it did not design or manufacture the ride.
According to the motion filed this week, lawyers for the theme park halted depositions and moved for a protective order to keep the family's lawyers from showing photographs of Esparza's remains to teenage park employees.
Bryan Pope, a lawyer representing the park, contended the photos were "upsetting" and weren't necessary to obtain testimony from the teenagers. He argued that the photos were shown as a ploy to unnerve the witness and to try to break his focus. Pope told opposing counsel that if the graphic photos were to be shown, he would seek a protective order to keep them from being shown to the teens.
Chip Brooker, a lawyer with the Branson law firm that represents the Esparza family, said the photos were "reasonable and necessary" in the deposition because the person being deposed was one of the employees who discovered Esparza's remains. Lawyer Frank Branson added that the protective order Six Flags was seeking was baseless and was "an effort to unreasonably delay these depositions," which they had been seeking for months.
Included in the motion filed Monday was the Dec. 12 deposition with the ride attendant, who said he was confident he had secured Esparza's lap restraint. The ride's operator is mentioned in the deposition as saying that she believed the restraint bar was not properly in place but that she let the ride proceed anyway — a violation of the company's "If-In-Doubt" policy.
After several rounds of questioning, the deposition with the ride attendant turned contentious when Branson asked the teen to comment on photos of Esparza's remains. Pope objected.
"I am going to object because these photos are so horrific that we are not contending that there's any dispute about her death or where she was located, and these are very graphic, and I would request, Counsel, please not dwell on these," Pope said. "We are not going to certainly argue that that was where she was found or the condition she was in. There's really nothing to be gained by this."
"These are what you did to Ms. Esparza," Branson replied, according to the deposition. Branson added that he wanted to know what the teen had seen when he was sent to look for a body.
The deposition, which can be read here along with the motion to compel, ended a short time later.
In an email sent to the Branson firm on Jan. 6, Pope said he would not produce employees for a deposition unless opposing counsel agreed to not display the photos of Esparza's remains. From there, more emails were exchanged between the lawyers.
That exchange led to a Motion for Protective Order being filed on behalf of Six Flags and a Motion to Compel being filed on behalf of the Esparza family.
A date for the hearing on the motion and sanctions could be set for later this month.