As a young boy, Terrance “T.W.” Anderson Jr. spent summers running carnival games at amusement parks and fairs. But rather than join the family carnival business, Anderson chose another route. The Miami attorney with GrayRobinson has worked toward building a national legal practice around contracts, litigation and disputes involving fairs and traveling carnivals.
Anderson, whose family had its home in Tampa, looked forward to summer days eating cotton candy and mastering carnival games. Now, as a shareholder in Miami with the statewide law firm GrayRobinson, Anderson represents some of the concession owners and carnival operators he knows from his younger years or through family connections. Nationally, there are many traveling carnival companies, most made up of multiple operators of rides, food stands and games. Many of these venues are operated by independent owners who contract with the carnival. Anderson reviews contracts and gives guidance within this novel legal niche.
Of course, the niche practice is in addition to representing corporate clients in complex business litigation in state and federal courts. As a corporate lawyer, Anderson has represented clients in arbitrations before the American Arbitration Association and in cross-border disputes before the International Center for Dispute Resolution. His litigation practice is largely devoted to banking and finance, real property, construction and corporate litigation, which lends itself to applying knowledge from those specialties to the amusement industry.
We spoke to Anderson recently:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Q. What are some of the more interesting legal issues that carnivals and the mobile amusement industry are dealing with now?
A. One of the most prevalent issues is labor. When my parents first started in this business, they could find large numbers of people willing to travel with carnivals. Now it is difficult to find American workers who are interested in traveling with the carnival or who are willing to take a temporary position. Instead, carnival operators are bringing in foreign labor on H-2B visas. There are issues surrounding that, including a cap on how many they can hire each year.
I have two lawsuits pending regarding H-2B workers and I just settled a third, all while I am helping others get visas they need to bring workers in for the season. Of course, there are other types of legal issues, too, such as personal injury cases — but injury cases are not new or as novel as the labor cases we are seeing now.
Q. Have you been involved in any of the legal issues with the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair?
A. Not currently, but I do have family that operates games and food stands at that fair. I had a case a couple of years ago involving the Youth Fair where someone sued for an injury they claimed happened on one of the rides, but I was able to get the case dismissed because my client didn’t own the ride. It was owned by another company.
Q. What’s different about how the outdoor amusement industry operates?
A. The industry is unique. With carnivals, you have a group of people who travel together from location to location — in a modern-day caravan. They face issues that range from problems with travel regulations imposed by the Department of Transportation because there are different requirements for different size trucks and trailers from state to state to labor issues.
Their work days are different from most other industries. When the fair is open, there are set hours. However, that can change rapidly depending on the weather or other factors. In between fairs, when the workers are setting up and taking down equipment, the hours vary widely and happen at various times on different days. Also, there is different lingo used in the carnival business. A game is not a concession, it’s called a “joint.”
Having grown up in the business myself, I am familiar with the lingo and how a typical workday operates.
Q. What are the strangest contracts you have negotiated for the industry?
A. When someone buys a ride or attraction, I will review those contracts. Often, they are not favorable for the buyer in the U.S. because the manufacturers are overseas. If the buyer has to sue or bring an action, it usually has to do so in the location where the ride is manufactured. It is difficult for someone here to get any recourse, so the buyer needs good legal representation during the buying phase.
Q. How did your family get into the carnival business?
A. My mother was a professional golfer on the LPGA tour between the ages of 18 and 23, and her parents were in the carnival business. On a break from her golf season one year, she went to visit them and met my father, who was working for someone else who owned games at the fair. After they were married, my parents bought out my father’s former employer, took over his operation, and ran it for many years.
During that time, my mom would stay home in Tampa with my sister and I and, as soon as the school year ended, we would fly, or drive, to meet dad and travel for the summer with the carnival, mostly throughout the Midwest. Eventually my parents’ business interest split — my mother stayed in the business and my father got out of it completely.
When I was younger, I would enjoy riding rides. As I grew older, I would work the games for my parents.
Q. What did you learn from that experience?
A. Salesmanship. I learned you had to be a salesperson in order to get people to play your game. I also learned the value of money — how hard it is to make, and I learned how to read people. You get a feel for whether someone is honest or not.
Q. What made you decide to be a lawyer?
A. I was in sales after college. I had a good friend who was a lawyer in Miami. He started talking about law with me, and I became interested in going back to school to get an advanced degree.
Q. How do the issues you are dealing with for other clients contrast or compare with this specialty? Does your complex commercial litigation practice help or is this specialty its own animal?
A. There is overlap. Having a background in complex commercial litigation is helpful for these cases because they typically are filed in federal court. They are not routine but some of the issues are similar.
One example I can give you is about a case I have pending in federal court in Arkansas right now involving former workers who are foreigners that are suing the carnival that employed them. The plaintiffs are citizens of Mexico and South Africa (which are the two primary providers of H-2B visa workers), and we have been fighting about the locations of the depositions of these individuals.
My background in complex commercial litigation has proved very helpful in the dispute. Banking and finance are a large focus of my practice. I represent companies in the construction litigation area, in shareholder disputes… I have a diverse practice, but it is generally complex commercial litigation.
Q. Do you think this specialty can develop into a national full-time practice?
A. It can be a large part of my practice. The mobile and outdoor amusement industries are quite niche. I certainly have a unique connection to the industry.
Q. How do you get clients in this specialty? Is it all word-of-mouth?
A. Yes. It helps to have an “in.” I have known most of the operators since I was very young. The others have been referred through my family. My family is still in the business. My mom is an independent concession operator, and my sister’s husband’s family owns an entire carnival.
Q. Are you immediately accepted by the industry?
A. Yes, my background does help. When we get a request for documents from an opposing party, most of the time they don’t know as much about the industry as I do. I know what to ask the clients for rather than having them tell me. And the clients don’t have to change their lingo for me — I know what records exist.
Q. Does closure of the Ringling Bros. Circus affect the industry?
A. Yes and no. I would imagine they were having similar labor issues to those that carnivals are having. Plus, my suspicion is that there were a lot of regulations with animals that they may not have had to deal with decades ago. I am sure things were getting tougher from many different standpoints… labor, animals, transportation, costs.
The circus employed different types of people. People who work in the games or rides at carnivals have different backgrounds than those in the circus.
Q. Since you worked the games for many years, do you know tricks you can share for how to win the big prize?
A. The games are games of skills. Some will have someone demonstrating how to win. My best advice is, watch that person or persons and how they are performing and doing the game. Most people watch the result, rather than the technique. If you watch the technique, it will help you a lot. It may take more than one try to win. Some people win the first time, but it may take more than one try.
A good example of this is my favorite game at the fair — a game my mother operates called the “Bottle-Up.” In that game, the player uses a rod with an attached string and ring that is used to hook a bottle and try to make it stand on its end. There is always a demonstrator at that game showing people how to win. It’s a game of 95 percent skill and 5 percent luck. I have been able to win or stand up the bottle in that game since I was 7 or 8. Anyone can do it.
Q. So while most of us are thrilled to eat caramel apples and funnel cake, ride the Tilt-A-Whirl and toss the basketball for a prize, are you a fairgoer who is tainted by all the lawsuits that you have seen?
A. As a lawyer, I understand that it is part of doing business, and I try to help those in the industry understand that. I know how hard it is for the carnival operators to make a living, and am saddened by some of the litigation that is causing carnival operators to spend large sums of money to defend.
The industry has come a long way since I was a kid growing up in it, and has really improved. I really want to see it continue to grow and thrive. So I want to do my best to help defend it.
Terrance W. “T.W.” Anderson Jr.
Job: Shareholder, GrayRobinson, Miami
Background: Born in Tampa. Graduated from University of South Florida in 1999; graduated from St. Thomas University School of Law in 2006.
Admissions: Florida; U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida; U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida; U.S. Court of Appeal, Fourth, Eighth and 11th Circuits.
Clients: Banks, construction companies, real estate developers, carnival and festival operators and independent game owners.
Personal: Married to Camila Anderson since 2013.
Hobbies: Golf, traveling and spending time with family and friends.