Burned at the Magic Kingdom


Q: On October 13, 2003, my daughter Mary Kate Cammarata sustained a burn in her right eye as a result of sparks from the new firework display in the Magic Kingdom. The embers burned the area of the lower eyelid and tear duct.

After being treated by Magic Kingdom medical personnel, she was transported out of the park to my vehicle at which time I took her to Celebration Medical Center for further treatment.

The incident was reported to Magic Kingdom security at “It’s a Small World,” where the accident occurred and was reported again late that night after we returned form the emergency room to the front desk personnel at the Caribbean Beach, where we were staying.

A Disney representative spoke to my daughter in the middle of the night and then left a voice mail message on Tuesday morning saying someone would come to our room to take another report.

No one came until I called the front desk at approximately 4:30 p.m. A security guard took another report and advised us that someone would contact us before the end of our stay or by a day or two after we returned home.

To date, no one from Disney has contacted us.

My daughter has very bad vision and depends on contacts to see anything clearly. Because of the burns in her eye, she was unable to wear her contacts for the rest of the trip. The time we were able to go into the parks was limited and very uncomfortable for her due to the blisters and the weeping and crusting of the eye. She needed to apply antibiotics to the lids several times a day which caused blurred vision and headaches when she put on her glasses.

The injury sustained as a result of this new firework display severely interfered with our trip. A four-year-old and a nine-month-old and a mother who is injured in that manner, made it difficult to go to the parks and stay there for any length of time.

The reason I am writing you is because I paid for this entire trip. It was supposed to have been the vacation of a lifetime. I feel we should be reimbursed for a return visit. I am also requesting that Disney cover the medical bills from the hospital, a follow-up visit with the doctor and her prescriptions.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

— JoAnne B. Miller

A: Since I’ve started writing this column I’ve met a lot of people who’ve been burned on their vacations, figuratively speaking. But until I got your letter, I hadn’t come across someone who was literally burned.

I am so sorry your vacation was ruined. I spoke with you numerous times on the phone, and I know how painful this was for you and your family. It’s bad enough that your daughter was injured, but Disney’s lack of response only made matters worse. If it had done what it promised, then you wouldn’t have had to contact me.

This is the second column about a Disney theme park accident in the last year. And it begs the question of whether its parks are safe. As someone who covers the travel industry, I see no evidence that this is a more widespread problem with safety. Rather, it is an issue of following up with guests who have a legitimate grievance.

Why is Disney so slow? After my first column on Disney appeared, I was contacted by an emergency-room physician in Orlando, who offered an interesting theory. He said the number of fraudulent claims against theme parks were remarkably high – everything from people stubbing their toe in the parking lot and threatening to sue the company, to claiming to be raped in a resort hotel room.

“Being in Orlando, you see it all,” he told me. “People fake everything.”

So I have to conclude that the theme parks have built up their defenses against bogus claims. Maybe the wall is too high.

Then again, maybe Disney didn’t know the extent of your daughter’s injuries – or that you wanted to file a claim. Veronica Clemons, a Disney spokeswoman, says the company has no record of you or your daughter filing a claim. And indeed, after I reviewed your correspondence with me, it’s clear that you didn’t actually make a formal claim.

“We took action as soon as we were made aware of this situation through your letter and contacted Ms. Miller,” Clemons told me.

To Disney’s credit, it took quick action and refunded the $2,235.40 you had paid for your vacation. You gave me that information in a follow-up conversation, presumably before Disney’s attorneys asked you to sign a confidentiality agreement as part of your settlement.

Next time you have a gripe with a travel company, be sure to go through the grievance process. Put your complaint in writing and send it to the company. Don’t wait to be contacted, no matter how serious your problem. Otherwise, you may never get what you deserve.