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  • Carla V. Minnard

Accidents & Injuries at Theme Parks

It’s summer and families all across the country are packing up and heading to the amusement park. The main point of the excursion is evident in the name: amusement park. But sometimes, it’s not all fun and games. Most of us heard about the 2 year old boy who was tragically killed after being dragged off by an alligator at the Disney Resort lagoon in Orlando. The recent tragic death of a young boy on a waterslide in Kansas City also made national news.

Basic statistics

According to a report by Wilkofsky Gruen Associates commissioned by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), there are 405 amusement parks in the United States. In 2014, approximately 357 million guests visited amusement parks in the U.S., spending more than $50 billion dollars. Theme and amusement parks employ 100,000 people year-round and 500,000 seasonally. In short, it is a huge industry and one that continues to grow.

Types & Causes of Amusement Park Injuries

Amusement park injuries can run the gamut from cuts and bruises to spinal injury and death. Some common causes of injuries are:

Improper maintenance or inspection of a ride

Mechanical failure

Defective design of a ride

Failure to properly train park staff

Failure to warn of known risks or inadequate warning

In the Disney lagoon case, it was reported that the victim (a 2 year old boy) was wading at the edge of the water with his parent when an alligator swam up and pulled him under and away. There was apparently a sign posted at the lagoon that said “NO SWIMMING.” If the parents were to file a claim against the resort, it would likely include claims for failure to warn and/or inadequate warning. The idea is that posting a sign that says “NO SWIMMING” was not adequate to warn a reasonable person of the dangers that were actually present. The claimants would likely argue that a reasonable warning would have been a sign that said “WARNING: NO SWIMMING. ALLIGATORS IN WATER,” or something similar conveying the actual risk of entering the water, and the seriousness of it.

In the Kansas City waterslide case, it has been widely reported that the shoulder harnesses on the waterslide were made of a hook and loop Velcro type design which can degrade over time and numerous photos have been made public that depict other riders whose harnesses have slipped off or come loose during the ride. A claim in that case would likely include mechanical failure, defective design and improper maintenance/inspection.

State Regulation & Oversight

In California, the Department of Industrial Relations Amusement Ride & Tramway Unit or “ART” Unit that is responsible for monitoring the safety of both mobile/temporary rides as well as fixed rides and ski lifts. California law requires that certified safety inspectors annually perform unannounced inspections of all rides, including a review of records, according to the Permanent Amusement Ride Safety Inspection Program, which was put into place by a law passed in 2000. The inspection program also requires that the operator or owner of a ride document and report any injury that requires something more than a standard first aid kit.

Depending on where the injury happened, how it happened, and what caused it, there may be a number of different legal issues at issue in any given case.

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