Before he was fired, ex-Disney CEO Bob Chapek called Disney Cast Members the “secret sauce” of Disney’s success. While it may have sounded like a ridiculous thing to say, Chapek wasn’t entirely wrong. Cast Members make magic for thousands of Guests who visit the theme parks every day. Cast Members are not always treated with the respect they deserve — like when a Guest tries to get them fired — but they typically always show up to work with smiles on their faces. Almost always.
Unfortunately, according to a newly filed lawsuit, Cast Members did anything but smile. Instead, it is being claimed that they laughed at a disabled woman as she attempted to exit a boat on the popular Disneyland attraction, the Jungle Cruise. The woman fell and ended up dying several months later due to complications from the fall.
The lawsuit was filed by the family of Joanne Aguilar, and claims Disney is responsible for her wrongful death. According to The Orange County Register:
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.
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.
It is important to note that the Jungle Cruise does have a boat specifically designed to hold people in wheelchairs. Since it was unavailable, the woman was forced to climb in and out of the boat with the assistance of her daughters. While getting into the boat was easy, climbing out was much more difficult, and that’s where the trouble really began.
“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.”
The lawsuit claims that Ms. Aguilar fell while trying to get out of the boat and broke her femur — the bone in her thigh. Ms. Aguilar had to be taken from the theme park to a hospital via ambulance and had to undergo surgery. She remained in the hospital for 10 days and was then transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where she stayed for 5 months. Sadly, Ms. Aguilar developed an infection, became septic, and died on January 29, 2022.
Aguilar’s family claims that the fall at Disneyland was the catalyst for everything that happened. The lawsuit claims not only wrongful death, but says that Disney was negligent and violated The Americans With Disabilities Act. In Disney’s response to the lawsuit, they claim that they did not discriminate against Ms. Aguilar and that her death was the result of her own conduct and her own negligence.