An amusement park accident or theme park accident can be scary. The rides that these business establishments have are exciting and sometimes dangerous. It is the danger element that is frequently inadequately accounted for.
Leading causes of amusement park accidents and injuries include:
Liability claims relating to Virginia and Maryland amusement park injuries can be complicated because they involve different areas of tort law. They can involve product defects, they can involve premises defects and they can involve general tort law.
The highly lucrative and competitive industry that runs amusement parks, theme parks and other permanent amusement locations is not regulated by the federal government. In 1981 the amusement park industry was deregulated by the federal government and as such there are no mandatory national standards. This gap in federal regulations is sometimes referred to as the “roller coaster loophole”. As a result, regulation is governed by the states which means that regulation may vary from state to state. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does have some limited oversight but the emphasis is on the word “limited”. Under the Consumer Product Safety Act a ride manufacturer, owner or operator is required to notify the CPSC if it obtains information that a portable amusement ride creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has published certain standards that apply to amusement rides. Standards can also be found at the American National Standards Institute which does publish standards for aerial passenger/tramway type of rides. Those standards, however, are voluntary.
Rides at many of the operations are operated by low wage workers. As such, finding evidence to support a potential negligent hiring or training claim may not be difficult. If there is to be an argument to be made that the amusement park should be held to the heightened duty of a common carrier, then that certainly is something that should be alleged as part of any claim.
In handling claims of this nature it is important to notify the amusement company promptly of the potential claim before the ride or device is altered in any way.
In terms of potential expert witnesses in order to prove the claim, it may be necessary to retain the service of a bio-mechanical engineer or similar expert to analyze the forces exerted on the human body in regards to this ride. In addition, it may be necessary to retain an industry expert to establish the proper standard of care in regards to the operation and maintenance of the ride. In terms of retaining potential expert witnesses, you should be aware that the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials certifies these officials at three (3) basic levels.
In investigating amusement park injuries it is critical to gather all related state and local inspections including any police or fire department inspections and conducting a thorough search of the history of the equipment.
Spoliation of evidence may be a significant issue because there may be videos of the equipment and the particular incident. It is important to get a letter out to the owner and operator to retain all such evidence.
Contact should be made with organizations such as www.saferparks.org, state regulatory agencies and the CPSC to obtain any records of incidents involving amusement rides.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade association, may also be a resource for amusement park safety.
Most amusement park injuries that involve rides occur either as a result of some mechanical malfunction of the ride vehicle or some behavior by the rider that takes the rider out of what sometimes is called the “zone of safety” or also called the “ride safety envelope”. That zone or envelope is the area around the vehicle that should be protected from intrusions by foreign objects and sufficiently expansive that the rider cannot contact any object outside of that zone by either extending a limb or standing up. This zone of safety likewise should prevent bystanders from coming in contact with the ride vehicle.
Any such intrusion or behavior by the rider as referenced above should result in the ride vehicle stopping automatically.
Likewise the zone of safety is protected through gates typically with sensors that should prevent any potential intrusion.
Any object that might potentially intrude into the zone of safety should be secured in such fashion that it cannot fail. For instance, objects such as trees, ornaments or decorations if they are to be placed in some proximity to this zone of safety then they must be well-secured so that they can never invade the zone. This would likewise apply to any landscaping which may grow into the zone of safety.
Mechanical defects in the ride vehicle may manifest themselves in a failure to stop or in the vehicle moving in some irregular fashion. Preventing these types of defects is simply a matter of proper mechanical maintenance. Daily inspections and regular review of the track system are all necessary in order to prevent such mechanical failures.
The potential defendants in an amusement park injury case may be the owners and operators of the park, the manufacturers or designers of the ride equipment or the inspectors of the ride equipment and perhaps also the distributors and/or suppliers of the ride equipment. The different theories that may exist as far as asserting liability are negligence and breach of warranty. The negligence may be in terms of failure to warn, failure to properly maintain and failure to hire, retain, train or supervise qualified employees who will oversee the equipment. A breach of warranty claim may arise out of the purchase of the ticket for admission i.e. such ticket carries with it an implied warranty that the rides are fit for their intended purpose.
What follows is a series of Virginia cases that have dealt with amusement park injuries and/or sporting event injuries:
1994—Bregel v. Busch Entertainment Corp., 248 Va. 175,444 S.E.2d 718.
Plaintiff injured on skyride at Busch Gardens. Principal purpose of ride is to provide entertainment. Busch is not common carrier because it does not as a regular business undertake for hire to transport persons from one place to another.
1977—Amusement Slides Corp. v. Lehman, 217 Va. 815, 232 S.E.2d 803.
Plaintiff injured on water slide. Justified in believing safe, if instructions followed. Accident resulted from inattentiveness of defendant’s employees. Plaintiff did not assume risk.
1952—New Bay Shore Corp. v. Lewis, 193 Va. 400, 69 S.E.2d 320.
It is matter of common knowledge that merry-go-round is maintained primarily for amusement of children. Plaintiff injured when pushed from defendant’s merry-go-round by small boy running on moving platform. Defendant failed to enforce its own safety regulations, jury has right to find defendant negligent.
1950—Drudge v. Cooper, 190 Va. 843, 58 S.E.2d 878.
Defective restraining bar on roller coaster. Verdict for plaintiff.
1986—Thurston Metals & Supply Co. v. Taylor, 230 Va. 475,339 S.E.2d 538.
Basic rule applicable to golfers is that player must exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to others. In this case, defendant lost control of club while swinging and it hit plaintiff. Jury issue presented.
1967—C. & M. Promotions v. Ryland, 208 Va. 365, 158 S.E.2d 132.
Plaintiff injured by police officer at wrestling match while police officer was trying to remove disorderly person. Promoter not liable for act of county police officer.
1953—Atlantic Rural Exposition, Inc. v. Fagan, 195 Va. 13, 77 S.E.2d 368.
Plaintiff spectator at stock car race, injured when wheel came off, bounded over 3.5 foot woven wire fence and into bleachers where he was seated. Spindle on car broke due to metal fatigue; however, car had been properly inspected and was reasonably believed to be safe. Trial court properly struck evidence as to driver and owners of stock car; but verdict against owner and operator of track held proper as they failed to correct known unsafe condition of premises (improper safety fence to protect spectators from recognized hazard).
1949—Whitfield v. Cox, 189 Va. 219, 52 S.E.2d 72.
Plaintiff struck on face by whiskey bottle while attending wrestling bout staged by defendant; defendant had nine employees and thirteen police officers at bout to keep order. Defendant was not required to search his patrons for objects that might be used to injure plaintiff or other patrons.
1944—Virginia State Fair Ass’n v. Burton, 182 Va. 365, 28 S.E.2d 716.
Plaintiff killed at auto race. Plaintiff was spectator. There was ample evidence of negligence on part of defendant as to crowd control, spectator safety and maintenance of track.
For more information on amusement parks see the pages on Wikipedia.
Call, or contact us using the form on this page today for a free consultation regarding your amusement park accident. Brien Roche is a Fairfax area premises liability attorney and can help with your litigation needs.
For more information about amusement parks see the pages on Wikipedia.