Amusement Park Injuries: What You Need to Know
March 25, 2019 | Personal Injury
Amusement park rides like roller coasters and Ferris wheels and bumper cars are a lot of fun but are also the leading cause for injuries among those who report getting hurt while at theme parks. Injuries can range from cuts and bruises to broken bones and head trauma resulting in brain injuries. The most serious theme park ride mishaps can even result in death. People visit theme parks by the millions and while most have a fun and injury free time, those who are injured by amusement park rides are often able to levy a legal case against the park and can bring a negligence claim against the park and its employees or against the products and equipment manufacturers.
How Common Are Amusement Park Accidents?
According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2006 approximately 9,000 people were injured in some fashion that warranted an accident report and these injuries occurred on amusement park rides. The majority of these reported cases are ones that required emergency room treatment, which means lesser injuries were not counted in these statistics and the total number of injuries is even higher. Additionally, the report indicated that more than 3,600 people were injured on bounce house and inflatable attractions in the park, and another 3,000 were hurt on public water slides or water parks located on the amusement park premises. Children represent about one half of those injured by amusement park rides, with 10-14 year olds making up almost 20% of all reported injuries. Children are also the victims in three quarters of reported accidents where passengers were thrown from the ride. From 1987 to 2000, the CPSC reported that 51 people were killed on amusement park rides. It is statistics like this that makes it necessary to know what the risks are and what your legal rights are if you or a family member are injured while at an amusement park.
Types of Amusement Park Injuries
The most common injuries from amusement park accidents include:
- head, neck, and back injuries caused by impact and whiplash movements;
- death due to falling or being thrown off a ride;
- stroke from trauma suffered during a ride;
- traumatic brain injury from G-forces or falling items striking the head;
- brain aneurysms caused by blood pressure due to centrifugal force on some rides;
- lacerations, broken bones, muscle strains, disc herniation, and torn ligaments; and
- drowning on water slides, rides, and water features of rides and water parks.
Causes of Amusement Park Injuries
According to the CPSC, there are several leading contributors to amusement park injuries and fatalities. Most injuries occur due to:
- Mechanical failure. A common example of this kind of failure is when the lap bar disengages mid trip and the rider falls out and falls to their death.
- Improper ride operation. Operators fail to check seat-belts or don’t secure harnesses properly due to being in a rush or being distracted.
- Passenger misuse. An example of this is when the rider stands up and ignores warnings to remain seated or intentionally undoes lap belts and harnesses.
- Inherent nature of the ride. Even without defect, operation error, or rider misuse, a ride may still cause an injury due to the nature of the ride itself.
Government Regulation of Amusement Park Rides
Government regulation of an amusement park ride depends on whether the ride is categorized as fixed-site or mobile. Fixed-site rides are permanent fixtures and do not travel from one location to another. Disney World is a fixed site and a traveling carnival is a mobile site. The CPSC regulates mobile amusement park rides but it does not have the authority to regulate fixed-site rides. This exclusion from regulation is a big one and is commonly referred to as the “Roller Coaster Loophole”. Just over half the states have regulations regarding safety inspections of fixed-site rides and will conduct and enforce reviews, repairs, and updates and closures as needed. The remaining states leave it to the insurance companies that cover the parks or third-party inspectors to check the safety and compliance and to make sure these fixed site parks are still in line with state and local regulations. Many people, particularly those who have been injured or who have lost a family member due to theme park injuries, have pushed for tighter and more encompassing regulations to be enforced. There is still much work that has to be done, but good progress has been made and regulations are improving.
Legal Process for Amusement Park Injuries
A number of different legal options are available to people who have suffered a severe injury due to an amusement park ride. Although the specific claim depends on the nature of the accident, negligence or product liability are the two most common types of cases we see.
Accidents Caused by Negligence
When an accident that results in injury was caused by employee recklessness or the actions or inactions of an individual deemed the responsible party, then the claim will be for negligence. In a standard negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove that the individual in question failed to do their required job and that they are indeed the responsible individual. The amusement park is responsible for the actions of its employees. So, if an employee is negligent, injured parties may sue the park for that employee’s (in)actions. Examples of common negligence cases seen in amusement park injury cases include:
- failing to post clear warning signs warning about the heath risks and advising persons with existing health conditions to not get on the ride. individuals with blood pressure, heart problems, back injuries, and recent surgeries are common health conditions are usually warned against riding roller coasters and similar rides.
- posting signs which fail to adequately warn riders of the risks involved and that fail to give due diligence to make sure riders know what risks they are assuming responsibility for by getting on a particular ride.
- failing to ensure that all of the ride operators are properly trained and reviewed and monitored and that they receive constant training and refreshers on safety protocols and ride operation.
- failing to maintain equipment in a safe condition, failure to clean rides properly, failure to inspect rides and equipment as required, failure to report known or suspected issues, and failure to follow orders regarding fixing known problems.
- improperly operating a ride, providing incorrect instructions to riders, and willful ignorance of performing required duties on the part of park staff.
Injuries Caused By Product Liability
Some amusement park accidents are not the result of human error or action but are rather caused by defective ride components or due to faulty repairs or improper maintenance, inspection, and use. For example, the faulty design of a lap bar may cause the bar to unlatch mid-ride, so that the rider falls to the ground. This would happen regardless of how well the ride attendant secured it and regardless of what the rider did once the bar was put in place. The plaintiff must prove that the situation was caused by poor design of the part in question that malfunctioned and that the malfunction alone was the cause of the accident and the injury that was sustained.
Structural or design defects in the ride itself could give reason to seek a product liability claims against the manufacturer of the ride or the maker of the defective part. For example, the bolts used in the cars of a roller coaster are defective and cause the car to slip off the tracks. In these claims, plaintiffs must prove that the structure, equipment, or part was indeed defective and they must also prove that the specific defect specifically caused the situation that resulted in the injury or death of the victim.
Defenses to Amusement Park Lawsuits
There are a number of defenses that amusement parks and ride manufacturers will try to use when they are brought in on a personal injury lawsuit. The defenses discussed below are particularly common in lawsuits involving amusement park rides.
Assumption of The Risk
If someone has been told there are risks involved with an activity and they decide to engage in that activity anyways, they will often be considered the responsible party. A judge may say that they had the assumption of risk and that they cannot hold the ride operator, the park owner, or the ride manufacture responsible for their injury. When you visit an amusement park, you will see and can logically assume there are some risks involved with a ride that goes 60 MPH or that spins you around under high G-Force. So, when you choose to get on the ride, you are releasing everyone else from responsibility and are in essence saying you acknowledge the risk and assume responsibility for what happens to you.
Assumption of the risk is not a blanket defense that can simply be slapped on anyone who gets on an amusement park ride. Patrons must be fully warned and given several opportunities to consider the risks. They have to have been made aware of the risks involved in order to assume them. So, for example, if a rider is unaware that the ride broke down three times already that day, that the ride is due for repairs, that the operator is new to that ride, or that there were loose bolts in the ride, then the rider cannot have assumed the risks associated with those details and cannot be held liable for an injury that is tied back to those kinds of causes.
Rider Non-Compliance With Safety Rules
If an injured rider failed to follow directions or rules and that intentional disobedience caused the injury, the amusement park may not be deemed liable for the injury. If the rider did not comply with posted age, weight, or height requirements, an amusement park or ride manufacturer can argue that it is the rider’s fault. It will be said that the rider created a situation that the manufacturer and operated could not have anticipated or that they were not the rider the ride was designed for because they were too small or light to safely ride it in the first place. This defense isn’t a slam dunk, however. For example, plaintiffs might convince the judge that if the operator had been properly trained or had been paying attention would have seen that the child was too small for the ride or someone seemed too heavy to safely fit in the safety harness.
If riders don’t follow posted safety rules and this disregard leads to injury, the amusement park will use this as a defense as well. For example, when a child undoes a lap belt or stands up in a moving ride and falls and is injured or killed. Or if an adult loosens a lap belt because they don’t like how it feels and it causes them to slide around in the roller coaster car and hurt themselves it will likely be deemed that the fault is with the rider and not the ride operator.
Disclaimers on Amusement Park Admission Tickets
The final defense claim the amusement park may make is to argue that the disclaimer on the amusement park ticket is a legally biding contract that means you cannot bring a lawsuit against it. Most parks have a statement that in essence says that by entering the park you assume responsibility for your actions and your health and safety and will not hold the park liable and will not bring a lawsuit against them if anything happens.
These defenses rarely hold water in court and most judges would argue that patrons don’t read the disclaimer and that the wording of the clause is so vague and all-inclusive it cannot be legally binding and applied to all visitors blindly. In addition, it’s questionable whether a child or teenager who cannot enter a legally binding agreement could even be bound to the clause in the first place.
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