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Tragedy at the Fair


What was supposed to be a day of family, friends and fun at the Ohio State Fair on July 26, 2017, went horribly wrong when the popular Fire Ball ride broke apart mid-air, sending riders and debris flying. Tyler Jarrell, an 18 year old from Columbus, Ohio who had just enlisted in the Marine Corps, died at the scene, and 7 others ranging in age from 14 to 42 years old were injured, at least two critically. Ohio Governor John Kasich ordered all rides at the fair shut down, and promised a thorough investigation into the cause of the fatal accident. All rides at the fair were up and running after re-inspection by the next day except the Fire Ball.

The Fire Ball was manufactured by a Dutch company called KMG in 1998; there are 11 similar amusement park rides by KMG located in the U.S. and dozens more around the world. As news of the tragic accident at the Ohio State Fair spread, KMG urged officials at parks where their other rides are located to shut them down as well until the cause of the Fire Ball accident is determined.


Just about everyone likes to go to the county fair, to look at the arts and crafts, to play some games, and to go on some rides. But increasingly, the safety of these carnival rides is being called into question. According to a 2013 study of hospital data between 1990-2010, 12 children a day were treated for injuries from amusement park rides. Since 2010, there have been 22 fatalities associated with riders of amusement attractions. There were an estimated 30,900 injuries associated with amusement attractions seen in emergency departments in 2016 alone, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner.

These injury and fatality statistics are not necessarily due to a lack of inspection and oversight. For example, the Fire Ball ride was inspected—and passed inspection—multiple times before the tragic accident occurred. Rides are often inspected while they are being set up in order to ensure that they meet manufacturer specifications. They are also checked for approximately three dozen other items such as properly working seat belts, properly working brakes, proper assembly and installation, etc. Passing these inspections still leaves rides vulnerable to malfunction due to operator error, inappropriate behavior by riders (a cause of rider injuries 60% of the time), and system failure from something missed during inspection or that malfunctioned despite passing inspection.


Oversight of fair rides is different in different states. In Ohio, where this most recent accident occurred, and in neighboring Pennsylvania, the Department of Agriculture oversees amusement park rides. In Delaware, the State Fire Marshall is tasked with ensuring the safety of the fair rides. At home here in Georgia, the Office of Insurance and Safety Commissioner has the responsibility of making sure that amusement park rides in the Peach State are safe. Currently, nine states do not conduct any oversight: Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Arizona.

The idea of making inspection standards and requirements consistent throughout the country is percolating through counties and states. Such national consistency would ensure that all states have oversight, that the oversight is applying sufficient standards, and in addition it would enable more accurate collection of national injury and fatality data.


If you or someone you know is injured at a fair, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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