According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, last year there were more than 5,000 amusement park accidents around the country.1 There are presently no existing federal safety regulations for amusement parks. Although some states and municipalities require amusement parks to pass rigid safety code inspections, accidents still occur with great regularity.
Common causes of amusement park accidents:
Ride operator error
Ride operator error is more likely to occur in transient (temporary) amusement parks. For the most part, these are carnivals that travel around various parts of the country. They appear at county fairs or in vacant lots where they erect their rides for a few days, then close up and move on. Many of the ride operators in traveling amusement parks are as impermanent as the parks themselves. Some are poorly paid and have questionable experience and backgrounds.
There are many examples of accidents due to ride operators acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol, falling asleep while the ride is in progress, and getting distracted by other park visitors. Incompetent operators often fail to detect riders who are injured or those who become ill while riding. They are also more likely to overlook developing problems with the ride’s mechanical aspects.
Ride operator incompetence and inexperience is less likely to occur in theme amusement parks. Large corporations own and operate theme parks. Ride operators employed by these corporations often must pass strict drug screens. They receive thorough training as apprentices before they can operate rides. Unlike rides at transient amusement parks, which one operator normally operates alone, usually two and sometimes three people operate or supervise theme park rides.
Mechanical failure of rides due to age and poor maintenance
Even the best-maintained amusement park rides sometimes break down. Mechanical failures normally occur because of aging and poorly maintained parts. Ride mechanisms are in continuous use for up to 14 hours each day. Even with the best of maintenance, mechanical failure will eventually happen. When the mechanisms fail, rides can suddenly stop, collide with each other, eject riders, or fail to stop in time, causing riders nausea and disorientation.
Poorly designed and defective rides
To be competitive, many amusement parks, especially theme parks, constantly introduce new and more exciting rides. Sometimes the owners introduce these rides to the public before conducting sufficient testing for safety and design flaws. Although it may take thousands of riders before a safety defect becomes apparent, when a defect finally does show up, the results can be disastrous.
On-premises assaults and robberies
Amusement park assaults and robberies are on the rise. Because visitors normally carry lots of cash to pay for ride tickets, fast food, and souvenirs, they’re easy targets for thugs. Lack of surveillance cameras permits these people to flagrantly prowl park grounds for unsuspecting victims. Limited or poorly trained security personnel often fail to stop them from committing on-premises crimes.
The law and amusement parks
While state and local regulations may apply to amusement parks, violations often only result in a fine. Fines won’t help you if you get injured. Fortunately, the courts give injured amusement park visitors options. The courts in all 50 states hold amusement parks to a very high standard of care. These parks have a legal obligation to make their premises, employees, and rides safe for visitors.
Amusement park owners must do everything reasonably possible to protect their visitors from undue harm. When these owners fail to protect their visitors from undue harm or injury, the law says they breached (violated) their obligation, or duty of care. The act or omission causing the breach is the amusement park’s negligent act, or its negligence.
When an amusement park’s negligence causes a park visitor’s injury, the injured visitor has a legal right to compensation for her injuries and the accompanying costs, called damages. Damages include medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medications, gasoline, hospital parking fees, etc., lost wages, and for pain and suffering.
Where to begin – Evidence
If you’ve been injured in an amusement park accident, whether on the grounds or while on a ride, you have a right to compensation. To succeed in your insurance claim, you must prove the park’s negligence was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your damages.
To prove this requires evidence. You must gather evidence supporting your injury claim and present it in a logical manner to the amusement park’s insurance company. Here’s where to start…
Report your injury to management
Don’t leave! If injured, go directly to the ride operator and ask him to call for help. If your injury is serious, ask him to call 911. Larger amusement parks have security personnel and paramedics on-site. They will provide your initial care and can help decide whether your injuries require a trip to the emergency room.
Don’t be a hero. If your injuries are serious and you decline going to the hospital, you have squandered your opportunity to link your injury directly to the amusement park’s negligence.
For example, let’s say during a ride, the restraining harness broke loose and your head struck the inside of the ride compartment. After getting off the ride, your head hurt and you felt nauseous. Instead of reporting the broken harness and your head hitting the compartment, you left the park.
The next morning your head and neck were sore and your nausea worsened. After going to the local emergency room, the doctor diagnosed a brain concussion. At this point, if you return to the amusement park to report your injury, the company representative can say something else caused your injury after you left the park.
If you report your injury immediately, park security and paramedics will write an incident or injury report. The report positively links your concussion to the ride and broken harness.
Talk to witnesses
Witnesses are invaluable. They lend instant credibility to your accident claim. Eyewitnesses who aren’t family or friends are the best. They have no financial interest in your insurance claim. As a result, the park authorities and insurance company will take their version of events quite seriously.
For instance, if you were standing close to a ride and a piece of debris flew from the ride, striking you and causing a deep cut to your arm, an eyewitness can verify where the debris came from. The eyewitness can link the ride’s disintegration to your injury. Along with reporting the event to park security, ask the eyewitness to write down what she saw. Ask her to write down where the debris came from and how it struck your arm.
Also have the witness write down her name and contact information. Her statement doesn’t have to be notarized or sworn to. That only becomes important if you file a lawsuit and the authenticity of the witness’s signature is questioned. That’s not likely to occur.
Get photographs, video and audio
These days, most cell phones can take pictures and video. Photographs, videos, and audio recordings are some of the best evidence you can have. Be sure to record the accident scene as it relates to your injury. Make sure the date and time stamp function is turned on. Identify the cause of the accident and visually link it to your injury.
For example, if while walking up to the ride you stumbled on a broken step and cut your leg, get out your smart phone. Photograph and video the broken step. Do the same for the injured areas of your leg. Report your injury to the ride operator and ask him to call for medical assistance. While waiting, turn on your cell phone’s audio function and record the conversation between you and the operator.
The operator may make an admission about the step. He might say, “Yeah, we knew that step was broken. I reported it but they haven’t fixed it yet.” Or the operator may be less than helpful, saying something like, “Lady, that’s not my problem.”
The substance and nature of both statements are very strong evidence. The ride operator’s statement about previously reporting the broken step proves your injury was foreseeable. His arrogance shows… well, that he was arrogant. That’s not something the amusement park owners would like a jury to hear.
Verify your damages
You need to collect copies of your medical charts, bills, and out-of-pocket expenses. If you missed work because of the injury and your recovery, have your supervisor verify on company letterhead the amount of your lost wages. If your absence resulted in loss of a bonus or other monetary award, be sure that’s in the letter as well.
Filing an Amusement Park Insurance Claim
Filing an amusement park accident claim begins with the park’s management. If after your injury, security or paramedics came, they wrote an incident report for management. If your injury didn’t require immediate medical care, it’s still important to make your way to the park’s management office. They’re often difficult to find, so you may have to ask a park employee.
When you find the office, the representative will probably ask you to complete an accident/injury report. Make sure it’s as detailed as possible. Ask management for the name of its insurance company. It’s likely whoever you’re talking to will say they’ll have someone from the corporate office contact you to discuss your injury claim. That’s fine.
Within a week or two after the injury, someone will contact you from the main office or the insurance company. The representative may ask you for a recorded statement. If you agree, make sure you don’t say anything to implicate yourself in your injuries. The representative will tell you to send her the evidence you collected, including copies of your medical or therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and a verification of your lost wages.
If, after investigating the accident the insurance adjuster denies your claim, you may have to consider legal action. In that case, if your damages total an amount less than the limit of your state small claims court, you can file your claim there.
If, after investigating the accident the insurance adjuster doesn’t deny your claim, settlement negotiations won’t begin until you fully recover and you document all your damages.
Hiring an Attorney
Attorneys aren’t needed for all personal injury claims. If your injuries are soft tissue, like cuts and lacerations, sprains, or bumps, you can probably handle your own injury claim. If, though, your injuries are the more serious hard injuries like broken bones, head trauma, serious burns, or scarring, you need an experienced attorney’s advice.
Licensed personal injury attorneys can do things you can’t, like subpoena amusement park records, or conduct depositions (recorded statements) of ride operators, paramedics, and security personnel. Attorneys are likely to settle your claim for much higher than you could on your own.
Employee Recklessness Causes Emotional Distress
In this case example we review liability as it relates to amusement park employees and their employers. In many instances a business can be held legally responsible for the negligent acts of its employees while they’re working.
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