Amusement Park Accidents and Injuries: Do You Deserve Compensation?

Negligent amusement park and carnival operators are responsible for thousands of accidents every year. Here’s how to seek compensation for your amusement park injuries.

More than 43,000 Americans are treated for amusement park injuries each year, with the majority of injuries affecting young people under 24 years of age.

That’s an average of 117 injuries every day.¹

Traveling carnivals are somewhat regulated by the federal government, while fixed-location theme and amusements parks are only regulated at the state level.

All but six states have regulations for amusement park safety. The six states with no oversight are Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah.²

Common Causes of Amusement Park Accidents

Accidents can happen at small local carnivals or huge big-name theme and amusement parks. Common causes of amusement park accidents exist in parks of any size.

Ride Operator Error: Accidents from ride operator error happen most often with traveling carnivals, but they can happen at the fixed-location theme and amusement parks, too. Workers with traveling carnivals are much more likely to be poorly paid, poorly trained, and have questionable experience and backgrounds.

Accidents happen when operators are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, falling asleep while the ride is in progress, or 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.

Rides at traveling carnivals and fairs are usually run by one “carny” while permanent amusement parks often have two, and sometimes three people operate or supervise park rides.

Mechanical Failure: Even the best-maintained amusement park rides sometimes break down. Mechanical failures can 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 when they should.

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 rides to the public before adequately 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.

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 criminals. Limited or poorly trained security personnel often fail to stop on-premises crimes.

Slip and Fall Accidents: Wet steps, unsafe platforms for getting on and off rides, large cables, debris on the ground, and a myriad of other obstacles set the stage for amusement park visitors to suffer trip, slip and fall injuries.

Theme Parks Owe You a Duty of Care

Even states without specific regulations for carnivals and theme parks have duty of care rules for businesses open to the public. That means amusement park owners must do everything reasonably possible to protect visitors from undue harm.

When amusement park owners fail to protect their visitors from injury, they’ve violated their legal obligation (or duty of care).

Negligence is when the amusement park management, or one of the workers, fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable person would do. When their negligence causes injury, the amusement park is liable, meaning responsible, for your damages.

Damages can include medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and an amount to compensate for your pain and suffering.

Even though the amusement park owes you a duty of care, it’s up to you to prove the amusement park is to blame for your injuries.

You can prove the amusement park is liable for your injuries by showing:

  1. An unsafe condition caused your injuries.
  2. The park knew of the unsafe condition, or should have known
  3. The park did not remove or repair the unsafe condition.
  4. The unsafe condition was the direct cause of your injuries.
  5. You would not have been hurt but for the unsafe condition.
  6. You didn’t do anything to cause your injury.
  7. Your injuries are medically verifiable.

Prove Your Claim with Strong 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’ll need to gather good evidence to prove the park’s negligence caused your damages.

Report your injury: Don’t leave the scene! Report your injury to the ride operator and ask for help. For serious injuries, ask someone to call 911. Larger theme 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.

Never delay or refuse medical attention after an amusement park accident. The insurance company will jump at the chance to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries didn’t happen at the park.

For example, let’s say during a ride, the restraining harness broke loose, and your head hit the inside of the compartment. After getting off the ride your head hurt, and you felt queasy. Instead of reporting the broken harness and your head hitting the compartment, you left the park.

You woke up the next day feeling worse. Your friend took you to the emergency room, where you were diagnosed with 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. Independent witnesses have no financial interest in your claim so the insurance company will take their version of events quite seriously.

For instance, if you were standing near a ride when a piece of metal flew off the ride, causing a deep gash to your arm, an eyewitness can verify where the metal debris came from. The eyewitness can link the ride’s falling apart to your injury.

Get the name and contact information from the witness. Ask the witness to write down everything they saw and heard, and to sign and date their statement.

Take 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.

Take as many pictures of the accident scene as you safely can, from as many angles as possible. 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 smartphone. 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 for medical assistance.

While waiting, record the conversation between you and the operator. The operator may make an admission about the step, like “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, “Hey, that’s not my problem.”

Both kinds of statements can help your claim. The admission about the broken step helps prove the amusement park was negligent. The rude comment shows an uncaring attitude toward customers. That’s not something the amusement park owners would like a jury to hear.

Verify your damages: Collect copies of your medical records, bills, and out-of-pocket expenses. If you missed work because of the injury, ask your employer for a written statement of your lost wages. If your absence resulted in the loss of a bonus or other monetary award, be sure that’s in the letter as well.

Compensation for Amusement Park Injuries

Filing an amusement park accident claim begins with the park’s management. In larger parks, the security staff and first-aid team will usually write up an incident report after they’ve helped you.

If your injury didn’t require immediate medical care, it’s still important to make your way to the park’s management office. A park representative will probably ask you to complete an accident/injury report. Make sure it’s as detailed as possible. Ask for their insurance company’s contact information.

If you’re at a smaller, traveling carnival, ask to speak with the owner. There may not be a management office, and the carnival workers may not be willing to help you.

If you aren’t getting anywhere with the carnival workers, contact the local police. Traveling carnivals usually have to get a permit from the local city or town.

The police department can take a report of your complaint and may be able to help you track down the name and contact information for the carnival owner, and possibly the carnival’s insurance company.

Dealing with the Insurance Company

Soft-tissue injuries like cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains, and other types of mild injuries usually heal in a few days or weeks without complications. When you’ve fully recovered, you can usually negotiate a fair injury settlement directly with the insurance company.

You can calculate a fair settlement amount by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses like medicines and crutches, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for your pain and suffering.

Put your demand in writing. Attach copies your bills, receipts, photographs, and other evidence.

We’ve made it easier for you with this sample Personal Injury Claim Demand Letter.

When You Need Help to Win

Severe injury and wrongful death claims are almost impossible to win on your own. Sure, the insurance company may offer you a low-ball settlement to get you to sign a release and go away, but they’ll never willingly pay the full value of your claim.

Insurance companies for big-name amusement parks will fight you every step of the way. Some of the challenges you might face are:

  • Comparative Fault: The insurance company will try to deny or reduce the value of your claim by arguing you share the blame for the circumstance leading to the injuries.
  • Assumption of Risk: When a person is aware that a ride or activity can be dangerous and chooses to do it anyway, the insurance company will argue the person has no right to compensation.
  • Waiver of Liability:  To waive means giving something up. The insurance company may argue the fine print on the back of your ticket was an agreement not to blame the park for injuries.

A skilled personal injury lawyer knows how to overcome the arguments made by the amusement park and its insurance company lawyers. Your attorney will help show what really happened, and identify other parties who may be liable, like the defective ride manufacturer.

There’s just too much at stake to risk taking on the insurance company on your own.

Get the compensation you deserve for serious amusement park injuries. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.

Amusement Park Injury Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>