Three major amusement park accidents that occurred in less than a week have ignited concerns that state and federal regulators are not doing enough to set safety standards for the amusement park operators and their attractions. Fears were stoked about the safety of some amusements after 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated on the world’s tallest waterslide at Schlitterbahn Kansas City waterpark on Aug. 7.
The very next day, three girls were injured after falling more than 30 feet from a Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair in Greeneville, Tenn. One of the victims suffered a traumatic brain injury. Then just days later, a 3-year-old boy was airlifted to a pediatric hospital after he was thrown from a roller coaster in a Southwestern Pennsylvania amusement park.
Safety advocates say these preventable accidents illuminate severe safety deficiencies within the amusement industry and underscore the need for consistent rules and standards from state to state, using federal oversight, if necessary.
The need for safety reforms is especially urgent now that many parks are building rides that are more extreme in height and speed than ever before. The designers of the Verrückt waterslide, whose name is German for “insane,” had to rebuild the slide several times after rafts went airborne off the slide and other safety tests failed. There were also concerns about malfunctioning Velcro harnesses and lax weight restrictions. The slide had been open to the public less than two years when Caleb Schwab was killed.
Family Attractions Amusement Co., the Georgia company that owns and operates the Ferris wheel that malfunctioned at the Tennessee fair, is linked to an accident three years ago at the North Carolina State Fair that injured five people.
While some states have better regulations and enforcement in place, some states, such as Kansas, largely rely on amusement owners and operators to ensure their own safety. The Kansas Department of Labor has the authority to inspect amusement rides at random, but there is no evidence that state regulators conduct such inspections, leaving it to amusement park operators to self-regulate.
A 2013 study of amusement park injuries by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that 92,885 children younger than 18 were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for amusement ride-related injuries from 1990 to 2010. Because more than 70 percent of those injuries occurred in the warmer months of May through September, the injury statistics indicate that about 20 people are injured on amusement rides each day.
If you need more information on amusement park litigation and related safety issues, contact Kendall Dunson, Mike Crow or Evan Allen, lawyers in our firm’s Persons Injury &Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com, Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com or Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: USA Today, Associated Press, RightingInjustice.com
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