Denver District Judge Michael Mullins ruled on July 12 that Deborah Lee Benagh, who claims she was injured on Six Flags Elitch Gardens' Mind Eraser, will get her day in court ("Twists and Shouts," June 17). Elitch's had asked the judge to dismiss the suit, arguing that the park wasn't responsible for any injuries Benagh might have suffered because Elitch's didn't design the ride.
But Mullins determined that the park could be held liable under the doctrine of "premises liability." Benagh's lawyer will argue that even though Elitch's didn't create the ride, the amusement park knew the Mind Eraser might be dangerous and didn't take sufficient action to warn patrons.
After her summer 1997 spin, Benagh says she suffered neck and back pain as well as head injuries that caused a loss of memory. She has been living on disability benefits and undergoing medical treatment for the past two years.
In an effort to prevent public disclosure of Elitch's safety records, the park's attorney had asked the court to exclude the media from the proceedings. Mullins rejected that request but did impose a gag order preventing any of the parties--including Benagh--from talking to reporters.
But documents filed as part of the case reveal that in 1997, six Mind Eraser patrons were taken to the hospital via ambulance for neck and back injuries; a total of 22 people reported being injured on the ride that summer. Elitch's corporate parent, Premier Parks, also disclosed that dozens of people had claimed they were injured on Mind Eraser rides at other Premier parks.
Although the trial hasn't been set, a fall court date seems likely. Meanwhile, two years after her ride on the Mind Eraser, Benagh will finally go back to work at Merrill Lynch at the end of the month.
The Mouth That Roared
Anne Sulton has left the building. Just as quietly as she came to Colorado in 1992, the fiery lawyer has departed for the East Coast, where her husband has taken a position with New Jersey's higher-education office.
Sulton is best remembered for her 1997 defense of Gil Webb, who crashed into a police cruiser and killed a rookie cop ("Say It Loud," May 7, 1998). While she prefers to think of her time in Denver as "consciousness-raising" rather than hell-raising, she admits there was "never a dull moment in the seven years I've been here."
Although the list of Sulton's high-profile cases is long, for all the media hype--much of which she herself fostered--the majority of those cases didn't turn out as well as she might have liked.
For starters, Webb was eventually convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to nine years in prison. In March 1998, Sulton was hired by four women who claimed Denver Bronco defensive back Tyrone Braxton exposed himself to them at a nightclub; Braxton counter-sued. In February, a jury sided with the Bronco.
At the same time she was involved in the Braxton suit, Sulton was also representing local NAACP head Menola Upshaw in a defamation case against KOA-AM/850 talk-show host Desi Cortez, whom Upshaw claimed had ridiculed her on the air. A restraining order against Cortez generated some news interest, but no one noticed when the judge dismissed the case last month. A defamation suit Sulton herself filed against public defender Lisa Wayne, who'd criticized her handling of the Webb case, was dismissed last summer. And a class-action suit against the Hertz company alleging racial discrimination was settled late last year.
"She came in and pimped and exploited situations for as much as she could get out of it," Cortez says of Sulton. "She came in, made some money, stirred the pot and got the hell out."
But Denver hasn't seen the last of Sulton. Even as she "dusts off" her doctoral degree in criminology to write a book about crime prevention, she'll be returning to Denver for a few more big cases.
Sulton will again represent Webb in a police brutality case next year. She is also involved in a suit against Conoco, which is set for trial this September. And in early 2001, Sulton will return to Denver for a race and age discrimination class-action suit against US West.