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ARLINGTON (CBS11) – A Fort Worth man has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. Larry Panayi, from Fort Worth, says the park refused to let him get onto as many as 13 rides starting in 2013, because he has just one leg.
In the suit, Panayi says he was humiliated, embarrassed and confused, because he had been able to go on most of the rides with no problem for years. The suit says the park based its decision not on actual risks to him or anyone else, but on speculation about his disability.
In an interview with CBS11, Panayi said he went to the park in July of 2013 with his nieces and nephews. When they got to the front of a roller coaster with spinning cars, Pandemonium, he said staff members told him he needed two legs to get on. He asked for a supervisor, who repeated the new policy.
“I’m here with my little nieces and nephew who look up to Uncle Larry that can do anything and accomplish anything despite his quote unquote disability,” he said. “And they’re hearing somebody tell me I can’t ride a roller coaster? It’s just not right.”
Panayi lost his right leg, near the hip, in a car accident while in the Army more than 20 years ago. He uses crutches to get around. He has not let it slow him down though, sharing pictures of himself on roller coasters, jetskis, snowmobiles and hiking in mountains.
He said he tried to get on other rides that same day, but was only able to get onto one. On his next park visit in early 2014, the same policy was enforced.
“It just wasn’t right for a public accommodating park, to arbitrarily discriminate against a person with what they conceive as a disability,” he said.
Panayi’s suit follows a similar action filed by Clint Bench in Weatherford in 2013. Bench was born without fully formed hands but said he had never been prevented from using rides until 2012. His suit was settled late last year.
When Six Flags asked to have another similar suit dismissed in New Jersey, a judge wrote it was possible the company was basing rules on appearances of park guests, rather than legitimate safety concerns. The case is scheduled for trial later this month.
A Six Flags spokesman said the company did not comment on pending litigation. He wrote that the policies are reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis.
Panayi said his goal is to get access to the rides again, and possibly set a precedent to prevent other parks from instituting similar rules. He ran into the restrictions again at another park he said, while on a family vacation this winter in Florida.
Here is the lawsuit:
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