Disneyland employees laughed at struggling disabled guest before deadly fall, lawsuit alleges

Disneyland employees laughed at the struggles of a disabled woman rather than help her out of a Jungle Cruise boat before she suffered a fall that ultimately led to her death, a lawsuit alleges.

A wrongful death lawsuit against Disneyland, alleging that a 66-year-old Ventura County woman fell while getting out of a Jungle Cruise boat and died five months later due to complications from her injuries, has been assigned to a federal judge.

The lawsuit filed by the family of Joanne Aguilar against the Walt Disney company, its theme park division and Disneyland was assigned on Jan. 5 to United States District Judge Cormac Carney at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Santa Ana.

In its response to the lawsuit filed with the court, Disney denied all the allegations and said it is seeking a jury trial. Disneyland officials reached this week declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

“My clients went to Disneyland with the hopes of creating life-long happy memories and instead are left with the memory of a lack of dignity and respect for their mother which ultimately led to her final demise,” family attorney Michael Jeandron told SCNG. “Two daughters are heartbroken, healing and seeking accountability for Disney cast members who laughed at their struggling mother instead of helping her.”

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Aguilar visited the Anaheim theme park on Aug. 22, 2021 with her adult daughters Andrea Mallul and Zenobia Hernandez, according to the lawsuit.

When the family arrived at the Jungle Cruise attraction, the physically disabled Aguilar was told by Disneyland employees that a wheelchair-accessible boat was unavailable, according to the lawsuit.

The Jungle Cruise attraction — which takes riders on a cruise along the rivers of the world helmed by a comedic skipper — has an ADA-accessible boat that allows disabled Disneyland visitors to roll onto a platform on the riverboat from the dock without exiting their wheelchair.

Aguilar opted to ride another Jungle Cruise boat with the assistance of her daughters. After the ride, Disneyland employees “placed small unsecured blocks on top of the existing steps inside the boat to reduce the height of each step,” according to the lawsuit.

Aguilar’s daughters helped her out of the Jungle Cruise boat without the assistance of Disneyland cast members — Disney parlance for employees. Instead of assisting Aguilar out of the boat, Disneyland cast members laughed at her struggles, leaving her feeling ashamed, embarrassed and dehumanized, the lawsuit alleges.

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“Exiting the boat was more difficult as it required her to propel her body upward with her lower legs, which due to her disability was not possible,” according to the lawsuit. “The struggle was apparent and Disney cast members began snickered [sic] and giggling as they watched Ms. Aguilar try to safely exit the boat.”

Aguilar lost her balance on the unstable blocks, fell backward and fractured the femur in her right leg, according to the lawsuit.

Aguilar was taken by ambulance to an Anaheim hospital where she underwent surgery and remained for 10 days. She moved to an Oxnard rehabilitation center where she stayed for five months. She got an infection, went into septic shock and died on Jan. 29, 2022, according to the lawsuit. The wrongful death suit alleges Aguilar ultimately died as a result of her injuries from the fall at Disneyland.

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Septic shock is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria or fungus. People recovering from surgeries or those who have compromised immune systems, diabetes or liver problems are particularly susceptible to the infection, said Dan Cupido, a retired chief deputy coroner in Riverside County. An injury from a fall would not directly cause a person to develop septic shock, Cupido said.

Aguilar’s family sued Disneyland on Nov. 18 for wrongful death and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit seeks a monetary judgment for physical pain, mental suffering, humiliation, medical costs and funeral expenses.

In Disney’s written response on Dec. 29, the company’s lawyers contended that Aguilar’s injuries were caused by her own conduct and negligence and that Disneyland did not discriminate against Aguilar or deny her equal access.

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