Amusement parks and water parks are a favorite pastime for many Americans. They are family-friendly and offer entertainment for nearly every age. Many of these parks, especially those that have been immortalized in entertainment history, have been a destination for generations as well. But these parks are not foolproof– rides are just machinery that has been structurally engineered to carry passengers at inhuman speeds, heights, and experiences.
The industry racks in tens of billions of dollars every year so it’s no wonder amusement parks want to keep injuries and deaths from the public eye. And while theme and amusement parks are some of the most popular destinations to attend year round, there can also be accidents that may leave them off the bucket list for some.
Who Calls the Shots?
In North America, amusement park standards are set by the F-24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices of the American Society of Testing and Materials International (ASTM). Known as “ASTM F-24”, this committee is comprised of government officials, ride manufacturers, consumer advocates, and industry suppliers. It has been incorporated by 38 states and in various countries around the world.
The individuals of F-24 set the standards for the industry such as design and manufacturing processes, testing, operation, maintenance, inspection, and quality assurance. Some of those standards address ride restraint protocol, the role of ride operators and their capacity to enforce rules, as well as loose article advisory (ie: selfie sticks, etc). These processes are frequently reviewed to keep up with new technologies in the amusement park ride arena.
According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), there are six states that do not regulate amusement parks: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. This can range from fixed-site amusement parks, to carnivals and county fairs.
Though amusement parks strive for safety, and as much regulation and training a particular location or ride may have undergone, death and injury is still possible. Trusting your life in the hands of park operators or machinery comes with a risk. There have also been horrific accidents due to negligence of many parties involved.
In July 2016, a young boy was decapitated on a water slide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City. Caleb Schwab, only 10 years old at the time of his death, was tossed off at a crucial point of the crest of the ride that had been problematic in the early days of its testing.
The 120-foot-tall ride with speeds up to 60 mph, Verrückt (pictured above), was found to have major design flaws that avoided basic engineering standards that could severely injure or kill someone. It was delayed from opening three times due to the rafts flying off at the crest for this very reason. This prompted engineers to introduce weight and height restrictions, and put a netting around the ride with metal poles to hold it secure. The poles are eventually what Caleb hit when his harness came undone at the top of the crest.
It was found that the top authorities of Schlitterbahn knew about the dangers. Even a company official was terrified of riding Verrückt when they went on it. Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Tyler Austin Miles, its former operations director, were eventually charged with 20 criminal counts that included involuntary manslaughter, aggravated endangering of a child, and aggravated battery.
It was later revealed that the company rushed to create the ride after gaining publicity from being featured in a Travel Channel show called Xtreme Waterparks. Kansas “is known for its light regulation of amusement park rides.” according to the AP. It only took 20 months from conception to opening day for Verrückt to open up.
Big-name Amusement Park Injuries
Fixed-site amusement parks are subjected to more safety protocols than others, though it still doesn’t mean they are safer. Many of the major attractions at big-name locations (like Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, etc.) keep publicity from injuries as quiet as possible. After all, the industry in the United States alone is expected to make $20 billion in revenue for 2019.
From inception to implementation, amusement park rides go through high and rigorous standards to ensure the safety of all riders. Sometimes this means taking into consideration g-forces, or gravitational pull, maximum and minimum height and weight requirements, and overall design. But even then, it does not guarantee there won’t be other problems to contend with.
Many of the lawsuits against amusement parks come from operator negligence, inadequate training of the operators, defective designs, mechanical failure, improper maintenance and more. Ensuring the utmost safety is imperative for Americans to enjoy amusement parks, even if it means the facility may lose money by delaying projects or not allowing the attractions to open until their safety and training is finalized.
In 2019, Universal Orlando Resort quietly addressed an electrical issue at Volcano Bay. Many employees and guests experienced small shocks in the park throughout the day. The press release from the company indicates a few visited the hospital but were released. Though no one knows what the exact electrical issue was, the park eventually closed down; but not until hours after the shocks were first reported.
This prompted an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) to make sure protocol was followed correctly.
— Universal Orlando Resort (@UniversalORL) June 6, 2019
Though no one was severely hurt or injured, it still calls into question the true safety at theme parks. Universal Studios Florida is currently embedded in a lawsuit from an incident on January 31, 2019. An 11-year-old Brazilian boy unfortunately experienced getting his foot and leg crushed on the E.T. ride at the park.
Tiago Perez had his foot stuck between the ride vehicle and the cement offloading area at the ride’s end. He wasn’t riding abnormally or recklessly; he merely had his foot dangling in the carriage, as required by any other ride. An avid soccer player in Brazil, his toes, foot and leg were all crushed in what has been described as a grizzly scene.
His lawsuit alleges that prior to this incident, the company “..had knowledge that the design, manufacture, testing, construction, and/or operation of the E.T. Adventure ride, created an unreasonably dangerous ride resulting in injuries to guests, but [Universal] continued to market the ride as safe to the unsuspecting public..”
His attorney has suggested that a “netting” of sorts should be placed on the carriage to prevent this from happening, as Universal Studio’s has already implemented this in other rides.
Similarly, a 13-year-old boy experienced injuries to his right foot on the same ride in 2002. Though it was reported to the state, there are no other details available for public viewing.
Carnivals and County Fairs
Traveling carnivals or county fairs have attractions that are quickly disassembled and removed from a location so the festival can move locations. This comes with a slew of dangers because the rides are then rebuilt upon arrival at the next site. For example: parts may be missing or damaged from frequent travel, and there aren’t usually inspectors there to ensure the attractions are ready for a safe operation. Oftentimes the rides may be outdated and don’t meet industry standards the same way fixed-site attractions do.
Even scarier, it’s harder to locate the carnival owners or manufacturers for prosecution and injury claims. This poses a difficulty because vital evidence from the ride or location is usually packed up and moved onto another location. Evidence may easily be tampered with, destroyed, or lost.
Annual Injury Report
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) records amusement park accidents and injuries in its database each year. These are thoroughly vetted and reported in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) available to the public.
Data found in the NEISS search query on “amusement park injuries” reveals there have been an average of 27,093 injuries over the last ten years.
Injuries from rollercoasters or other theme park attractions include:
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injury
- Neck injury
- Back injury
- Loss of limbs and amputation
- Wrongful death
Do you have an amusement park lawsuit?
If you have been seriously injured, or if your family unfortunately suffered the loss of a loved one from an amusement park accident, we would like to speak with you. You may be entitled to financial compensation by filing a lawsuit with our personal injury lawyers.