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Amusement Parks: How Safe Are They?

"INSANE"

On August 7, 2016, 10 year old Caleb Schwab rode the world's tallest water slide in Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. The ride, named "Verruckt" which is the German word for "insane," opened in 2014 after being re-designed due to safety concerns. It turns out that reports of sandbags and rafts becoming airborne on trial runs proved to be horribly prescient; during the ride, Caleb was ejected from his raft and killed.

Various witnesses have stated that the harnesses used to strap people in to the rafts were not working properly, and that they had reported them being loose and/or falling off during the ride to park employees. At least one amusement park safety consultant has openly questioned whether the harness system used on the ride is even appropriate, since the Verruckt is more akin to a roller coaster than a water ride. The straps are velcro, not buckles, and the hook and loop system is not designed to keep people in their seats or stop them from being ejected.

Caleb Schwab was the son of State Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife Michele. Since the tragic accident, Kansas State Senator David Haley is demanding better regulation of amusement parks in the state in order to keep the public safe.

OVERSIGHT OF PARK RIDES

While fatal accidents like the one in Kansas City are thankfully not common, injuries on amusement park rides are: 4,423 people are treated in Emergency Departments annually, and approximately 20 children a day are treated due to injuries associated with amusement park rides.

However, while the Consumer Products Safety Commission regulates mobile rides such as those found in carnivals and fairs, there is no federal oversight of fixed rides like those in amusement parks. In 1981, an exemption went into effect that removed amusement parks from the federal regulatory framework and placed them under state law jurisdiction. In some states, including Kansas, the state law requires only that rides be inspected annually by whomever the park hires to do the inspection, and the state randomly audits the inspection records. The last records audit in Kansas for the Schlitterbahn was June of 2012.

In Georgia, the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner is in charge of park rules and regulations. Government officials must be in charge of annual inspections of rides, and can also conduct additional spot-checks.

WHEN ARE PARKS LIABLE FOR INJURIES?

There are several ways in which an amusement park can be liable for injuries sustained from its rides. One way is through negligence; the park has a duty to keep its rides safe for foreseeable and intended use. That duty includes keeping the rides current with state inspections and well-maintained. For example, with respect to the accident on the Verruckt, park employees were put on notice that at least some of the harnesses were not functioning properly. Failing to investigate the devices and make any necessary repairs may constitute a breach of the park's duty to ensure the safety of the ride.

Another way in which an amusement park can be liable is if the design of a ride is defective and causes injuries. To use the accident on the Verruckt ride as an example again, there are two possible design defects--the harness system and the steep hills--that may be sources of liability for the designer of the ride. This type of liability is known as product liability, and can also occur if there is a defect in a part or parts of the ride. If a part on the ride was manufactured incorrectly and the manufacturing defect caused the accident, then the manufacturer can be held liable.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured at an amusement park, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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