It is human nature, as Americans, to walk into one of the nearly 400 amusement parks throughout the United States and expect the park to be responsible for everyone’s safety. While that is usually the goal, accidents do happen. The expectation from American consumers is that some government agency swoops in and takes charge of an investigation that could lead to charges against the amusement park managers and owners. The reality is something very different, and that reality could change the way Americans look at amusement parks both at home and overseas.
Is There A Lack Of Government Regulation In Amusement Parks?
The truth is that there is no government agency at any level of government responsible for inspecting amusement park rides. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for collecting data on amusement park accidents and recommending courses of action, but the CPSC has constantly blocked the federal government from instituting any kind of real accountability plan to keep amusement parks vigilant when it comes to safety.
In most cases, any investigations conducted after accidents have occurred at amusement parks are carried out by the parks themselves, state authorities, or local authorities. There are no safety fines handed out when an accident occurs at an amusement park, and there are no government mandates that force amusement parks to make changes in the wake of an accident. Another distressing fact is that consumers could complain about the safety issues at an amusement park to state and local officials, but that does not mean any action will be taken.
How American Amusement Parks Are Regulated
The media, and more recently social media, are the primary way that amusement parks are made accountable for their safety issues. In June 2017, the viral videos of a teenage girl being caught by a crowd beneath her after she was dangling from a ride at a Six Flags Amusement Park in Upstate New York caused the park to close down while it looked into the incident. There was no government action that caused the park to close down, but the public demanded an investigation.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), which operates primarily in the United States, maintains that amusement parks are safe and provides estimates of around 100 people per year injured in all 400 parks as proof. But watchdog groups are starting to come forward with information that might cause American amusement parks to take their public image a little more seriously.
According to Widener University Law School Professor Christopher Robinette, 92,885 children up to age 17 were treated in emergency rooms for amusement park ride injuries for the 20-year span running from 1990 to 2010. That is considerably more than 100 per year, and Robinette has used his years of research on the amusement park industry to create his data. If American consumers cannot trust the federal, local, or state governments to regulate amusement parks, then what can be done when an injury occurs?
Suing For An Injury Suffered While Using The Rides
An amusement park has two significant areas of potential negligence when it comes to guest injuries; the workers in the park, and the rides themselves. Most amusement parks print disclaimers on the back of their tickets and have disclaimers posted all over the park, but worker negligence can quickly make those disclaimers null and void.
An amusement park is responsible for providing its invited guests the safest possible experience. As part of its responsibility, the amusement park must:
- Hire and train capable workers who understand their jobs and the equipment they are operating
- Post signs that are used by the employees to enforce rules regarding who can ride the rides and conduct within the park
- Maintain the rides properly so that they operate as they are supposed to
- Provide riders explicit instructions on how to safely ride the rides
- Inspect rides on a routine basis to make sure that the rides are safe
An uninvited guest, such as a trespasser, is not extended all of these courtesies. However, even a trespasser should expect to be in an amusement park without being intentionally harmed. A trespasser can be someone who enters the park illegally, or someone who goes into areas of the park that are restricted. As long as the restricted areas are clearly marked, the trespasser is responsible for their actions.
If an injury to a rider occurs because of the negligence of the amusement park, then the only recourse for the victim and their family have is to sue in court. Amusement park lawsuits can get an initial boost from the media coverage of the incident, but most lawsuits are forgotten long after the 24-hour news stations stop showing the pictures or videos of the incident.
So Who’s Fault Is It When Someone Gets Hurt At These Parks?
A lawsuit against an amusement park happens at the state level, and each state treats these cases in a slightly different manner. One of the most successful defenses for amusement parks in accident cases is claiming rider negligence. When a rider ignores the safety rules of a ride or uses the ride in a way it was not meant to be used (i.e., standing up on a roller coaster), then the amusement park is at fault. But these cases are not always as cut and dry as people may think.
The video from the June 2017 incident at Six Flags might lead people to believe that the safety bar on the ride was defective. But eyewitnesses have said that the girl was not sitting properly in the car and that is what caused her to fall out. The trend of posting viral videos of amusement park accidents has only helped to strengthen the case of each amusement park as rider negligence can be clearly seen in some of these videos.
Different Countries Approach The Accidents Differently
In October 2016, four people died on a water ride at an Australian amusement park called Dreamworld. But in Australia, investigating amusement park accidents is something done by the federal government. In June 2015, a roller coaster crash at a British amusement park that resulted in five people being seriously injured led to the local government bringing formal charges against the amusement park owners.
When an incident is investigated or prosecuted by a local or federal government, that paves the way for victims to bring up civil charges to recover damages. In the United States, there are no investigations or charges brought in the wake of amusement park accidents, and that makes it very difficult for victims to be compensated for their pain and suffering.
Amusement park accidents make headlines every summer, and every summer the question of safety in American amusement or theme parks is brought up. With video cameras in the hands of millions of Americans, the real origins of these potentially deadly accidents can be broadcast for everyone to see.
However, even in the most severe of amusement park accidents, there are no government investigations to help determine blame and pave the way for civil lawsuits. In the United States, it is very difficult to successfully sue amusement parks for injuries sustained on their rides, even when the evidence against the parks is clear for everyone to see.