NBC News recently reported on an injury that occurred on the Ninja rollercoaster at the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park in California. A tree branch caused the rollercoaster car to actually jump the tracks and derail! Luckily there were relatively minor injuries. This story caught my attention for two reasons: 1. The Ninja was actually my very first roller coaster experience; and 2. Florida has no shortage of theme parks, water parks, county fairs and carnivals that are potential sources of amusement park injuries.
I should start by mentioning that, statistically speaking, roller coasters are very safe – there is approximately one injury for every 24 million riders. However, roller coasters and other theme-park rides seem to be getting taller and going faster to attract thrill seekers.
In 2013 and 2014 there seemed to be an uptick in roller coaster accidents/incidents. You may recall reading about the Universal Studios coaster Rip Ride Rocket, which stalled and caused people to be stuck in an awkward vertical position for hours. Another ride at Universal Studios had theme-park goers stuck upside down! In Texas, a Six Flags Theme park roller coaster had a safety harness fail mid-ride, flinging a theme-park goer out of her seat (unfortunately she did not survive and a wrongful death suit is pending). At Cedar Point in Ohio a log-flume ride flipped over after falling backward injuring seven.
The NBC news article highlights the fact that there is no real organized source of data to answer some very simple questions: How dangerous are amusement parks? or How often do people get injured at amusement parks? The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (the industry trade group) conducted a survey and, of the approximately 200 amusement parks that responded in 2011, over 1200 people were injured on rides. Most of the parks did not respond to the survey at all or responded incompletely. Compare the IAAPA report to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, which says that over 92,000 children were injured on amusement-park rides and roller coasters between 1990 and 2010.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) used to track the number of deaths due to theme park or carnival rides (52 deaths between 1990 and 2004), but they no longer collect mortality data. They did report that, in 2011, over 37,000 people were sent to emergency rooms. Of those, approximately 36,000 were released and a little over 1,000 were admitted to the hospital. The CPSC regulates portable rides such as the ones that you see at county fairs and carnivals, but they have nothing to do with standard fixed rides such as the ones found at Disney World, Universal Studios or Busch Gardens.
When a wrongful death or amusement park injury occurs, and that injury occurs on a ride, it will be generally due to improper ride maintenance, inspection or a failure to warn. A theme-park injury may originate with a ride manufacturer’s product defect – which would give rise to a product-liability claim.
However, plenty of people are injured at theme parks or carnivals and those injuries have nothing to do with the actual rides. The owner/manager of the park has an obligation to maintain the general premises in a safe condition. Inadequate security, broken stairs or handrails, uneven pavement, insufficient lighting in the parking lot may also be evidence of general negligence that would give rise to a premises-liability claim.
Of course, all these rides have posted rules – make sure you follow them (yes, actually keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times; and do not ride if you’re not at least *this* tall, etc…)
Whether you, or someone you know, is injured at the Dade County Youth Fair, Santa’s Enchanted Forest in South Florida; or Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios / Disney World in Orlando, call the theme park injury lawyers at Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert, PA – with offices in South and Central Florida.