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Exclusive interview with Wayne Pierce- Part 1

5/31/2006

By MCW Staff

Photo courtesy of Wayne Pierce

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Wayne Pierce is a name not commonly known in the industry. Behind the scenes however, Wayne has been the industrys leading crusader on the safety and governmental regulation fronts. For over twenty years in practice at a Baltimore law firm and now on his own at Adventure Law, Waynes practice has focused almost exclusively on select adventure clients throughout the country, such as premier amusement and theme parks, waterparks, family entertainment centers, resorts, sports teams, carnivals, fairs and manufacturers. Wayne is counsel for the OABA and a consultant to theme parks, carnivals and industry and governmental organizations throughout the country.

Wayne has led some of the adventure industrys most important initiatives. He has taught more than 100 preventive law classes for numerous facilities, insurance companies and seminPhoto By Wayne Piercears. He has consulted on safety standards in more than 35 states. He wrote the only book on amusement law and his articles have appeared in more than a dozen industry publications.

Wayne was gracious enough to spend some time answering some important questions from MCW. We have divided the interview into two parts. The first part focuses on Wayne and his practice and touches on some of the issues facing the industry. The second part deals more with current regulations and initiatives.


1. Wayne, you have been involved in the amusement ride industry for quite a while. Tell us how you became interested in amusement rides and how you came to add these types of cases to your practice.

I have always had a drive for adventure, so the amusement industry is a lifelong love of mine. In one of my very first legal cases as a young lawyer, I got the opportunity to defend the mobile operator of a merry-go-round. I quickly saw how much fun this type of work could be, how it appealed to my own passion for adventure, and how I could build lifetime relationships with highly-satisfied clients. The case went to a jury verdict and I have been thrilled with thrill rides ever since. I am blessed as probably the only lawyer who has figured out how to combine family and work. I have sent my kids as guinea pigs off more roller coasters, tilts, or you-name-its than I can count. I once had my dear wife stand on a bridge for a shoot-the-chute ride and repeatedly get drenched on a cold May afternoon so we could prove how safe it was.


2. What types of clients do you represent and what cases have you worked on?

Since 1982, my practice has focused on select adventure clients throughout the country, such as theme parks, waterparks, or extreme sports parks; carnivals, fun centers, or fairs; resorts, adventure sports, or just plain sports. I have been involved in some way in the great majority of our industry’s significant legal issues, criminal cases, or catastrophic injury cases. Our signature distinction is “bad”-ride cases: the liability, regulatory, criminal, insurance, media, and warranty issues that sometimes come with owning amusement rides. We are disciples to doing these few things extremely well so our clients stay out of trouble. In my role as general counsel for the OABA, I work with most of the mobile industry. I was very proud to form and lead the historic coalitions of industry members that filed amicus briefs in Texas and California on the “common carrier” issue.


3. Recently you began a law practice dedicated to “adventure law”. How did you come to that decision and how are things going?

In what has been called our “experience economy,” I prefer to think of our industry as providing adventure rather than amusement, and I have branded my practice as “adventurelaw,” combining the best of both professions. After working with the adventure industry for more than 2 decades, I saw the next step in my dream was to build the only niche law practice intimately devoted to our unique needs. So I traded in my big-firm practice and put my name on the door last year. Not many people get to chase their dream, but we have the best job in the world. We are also uniquely positioned to leverage our good name, knowledge, and contacts. We keep a Walt Disney quote in our conference room to remind us how important our work is: “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done, and done right.”


4. How many attorneys and staff members do you have?

By leaving my big firm and “going small,” we have found the best combination of strategic focus because we are wholly dedicated to our industry, customized service and partnering no matter how big your operation, and best-in-class pricing. We have also harnessed the generator that drives so many small family businesses, because I was lucky to have my knowledgeable and skilled wife and sister join as our office manager and legal assistant. They truly care what happens to our industry. We are now recruiting for an associate or law clerk who shares our vision and drive for practicing “adventurelaw.” If any of your readers are -- or know -- a wannabe lawyer, they better call us.


5. What do you see as the biggest issues facing the industry in terms of safety and liability?

Most of our practice is preventive law: we want to keep clients from getting into trouble in the first place. This serves our mission of reducing client risk and improving productivity. I have preached for years that good business makes good safety. In other words, good business conditions and practices spawn the highest levels of safety, and that is the best form of liability relief. So we spend a lot of time fighting to keep (1) Shows free of legal troubles, (2) good spots available for business, (3) insurance available and affordable, (4) the public’s myth of perfection under control, (5) regulations beneficial and effective, and (6) riders safe and responsible.


6. Who are some of the major players and organizations in the carnival safety industry and what are their roles?

Everyone – and I do mean everyone – involved in the business plays some safety role. That gives us the redundant layers of protection we need to reduce unnecessary risk to a minimum. These efforts get refined as custom and best practices by the (1) trade groups, (2) insurers, (3) regulators, (4) training initiatives, or (5) standards-drafting groups.


7. Do you participate in any of these organizations? What is your role there?

We are intimately dedicated to all 5 of these areas. I have worked closely with the OABA for more than a decade, most recently as outside general counsel, as well as several other State showmen’s organizations. I am past-president for the Maryland Showmen’s. We have numerous working relationships with the specialty insurance companies. We work (or fight) with regulators all over the country, and I sit on the advisory board for CARES, which is a group of more than 20 agencies responsible for amusement-ride safety. I have provided training for NAARSO, AIMS, and a slew of others more than 160 times since 1994, and I have led several ASTM F24 initiatives since 1992.


8. Beginning especially with the Himalaya case in Texas with B and B Amusements, criminal liability has been a major concern for many ride operators. How real is this fear and what can be done to protect yourself from criminal liability?

Criminal responsibility is vanishingly rare in this industry when you consider the volume of patronage our industry provides. You are far more likely to be convicted for many other crimes. It breaks my heart when I listen to my clients and friends get put through the legal ringer. There are many things you can do to protect yourself, but I have found that the single most important factor is to find a job you love and work hard to do it well. In my experience, people who invest in their jobs are too professional to walk close to the danger line because they will not risk something they love.


9. National standards for amusement ride inspections are a big topic these days. There are congressional and safety advocates pressing for this. Is this type of regulation good for the industry and will it make riding amusement rides safer?

This kind of regulatory proliferation is a big reason why we have become the go-to firm for preventive law. You know, it is fairly easy to come up with “something” that will make us “safer.” Nobody ever asks: What opportunities did we lose because you made us divert resources to respond to your pet project? The question should be: What is the best investment of our always-limited safety resources? I deal with well-intended proposals all the time that are just poor investments: the resources that are expended far exceed the return on investment. For a Johnny-come-lately program, the burden should be on them to prove not only that the program will make a real difference, but that we have no better alternative.


10. If there were national standards, who would decide what they were? Who would perform the inspections and how often? What are some of these proposals?

We already have national standards. I am not talking about the after-the-fact incident response of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I am talking about ASTM F24. So to answer your questions, several dozen show owners, Bob Johnson at the OABA, myself, and about 470 park employees, manufacturers, and activists set our national standards. The only explicit inspections under ASTM are our own daily inspections.

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