Universal engineers knew of dangers associated with Punga Racers water slide, court papers show

'Universal knew that it had a problem, but it did not tell any of the people riding Punga Racers,' lawsuit says

Universal Orlando reportedly knew how dangerous its Punga Racers water slide was since it opened four years ago, according to court papers.

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Since 2017, the water slide inside Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay has allegedly left hundreds of tourists with injuries, including one New York man who was paralyzed last year from the neck down, his lawsuit states.

James Bowen was riding the water slide in July 2019 when he allegedly hit a wall of water toward the end of the ride, causing his "neck to violently snap back, leaving him face down in the water and unable to move," according to his complaint.

However, long before Bowen's injury, "riders on Punga Racers had been hitting the same hydraulic that snapped Mr. Bowen's neck, and were often left with neck, head, and back injuries of varying severity," the suit states.

MORE THAN 100 PEOPLE INJURED RIDING UNIVERSAL VOLCANO BAY WATER SLIDE: LAWSUIT

"Universal knew that it had a problem, but it did not tell any of the people riding Punga Racers," the filing reads. "Instead, it spent two years searching for a solution to slow riders down safely without doing the obvious (but more expensive) modification -- extending the end of the ride into a traditional run out that would give riders time to more slowly decelerate without the need to stop them abruptly using a deep but shorter pool of water and the inevitable hydraulic that would create."

The suit further claims that "it was because of this troubled history that Universal made the first and only modification to the slide."

In the fall of 2017, Universal shut down the ride and asked ProSlide, the ride manufacturer, to determine the cause of the wall of water in the Punga Racers catch pool, according to the court documents.

(Universal)

After a review, "ProSlide determined that the location of hydraulics on the slide was creating a wall of water that the guests impacted when they entered the catch pool, which created an 'abrupt deceleration' that caused injuries," the suit said.

Representatives for ProSlide did not immediately return FOX Business's request for comment.

However, even after the ride was modified, one of the test riders "experienced the same combination of speed, kinetic energy, and a collision with the hydraulic in the catch pool that caused his neck to snap backward," the suit stated.

Court papers show that "despite this proof that the modification did not solve the problem," Universal re-opened the slide for the public wherein "additional individuals were injured by the same wall of water that severely injured Mr. Bowen."

Bowen's attorney David Buckner declined to comment.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, which previously obtained a copy of now-sealed documents, roughly 115 visitors claimed they suffered injuries ranging from scrapes or nosebleeds to concussion or neck whiplash after patrons rode down the water slide headfirst on mats into the catch pools. The injuries occurred "primarily" in 2017 and 2019, according to the suit.

The suit claims that some solutions were never widely implemented because "they cost too much" and that instead of closing it down, "Universal kept testing various remedies without implementing them or warning its guests of this known risk".

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However, more than 1.5 million guests experienced the ride "with the overwhelming majority of those guests having a safe and enjoyable experience without incident," Universal spokesperson Tom Schroder told FOX Business last week.

"That said, we take guest injuries seriously," Schroder said. "We have a safety-first culture that places the safety of our guests and team members above everything else."

Schroder also noted that the company immediately begins an investigation and review "when there is an injury of any kind" and that Universal has a "rigorous and detailed process in place" to help resolve any issues.

Universal declined to comment further on the case Tuesday.

In July 2019, after Bowen was injured, the company's Punga Racers reopened after a "lengthy refurbishment" in which the ride was converted to a traditional body slide without mats, according to theme park blogger Inside Universal.

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