Amusement park rides can be dangerous

In an article published this month on LawyersUSAonline.com, author Dick Dahl reported on a case where cables snapped at the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville on the afternoon of June 21, 2007.

As a result, the severed cable cut off both of the feet of a 13 year old girl.
The next month, her family filed a negligence suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court against the amusement park. The case is currently in discovery and a trial date has not been set.

Mr. Dahl pointed out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that some 6,000 to 7,000 people can expect to be treated in emergency rooms for amusement ride injuries by the end of the year.

The amusement-park industry steadfastly rejects these figures and claims that the injury rate is less than half of CPSC estimates. Still that would be over 3,000 people injured to the extent they need emergency medical treatment.

In 1981, lobbyists for fixed-site theme parks like Six Flags were able to get a law passed that exempted theme parkes from CPSC regulation. Thus, only the traveling fairs are regulated by the CPSC.

According to the article, there is no federal agency that requires reporting of amusement ride injuries. Also state requirements vary widely. It is suggested that the true injury toll is underreported.

The CPSC used to compile estimates on amusement ride injuries, utilizing data gathered from emergency rooms around the country. Over an eight-year period – 1997 to 2004 – the Commission estimated that 60,000 emergency-room injuries were related to amusement rides.

Then, in 2005, the CPSC stopped compiling estimates. It is argued that pressure was put on the CPSC to stop reporting negative news about a big money making business.

Currently, the only national data on amusement ride injuries is gathered and reported by the industry itself via a voluntary system. An industry group, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, asks its members to submit anonymous reports of injuries requiring medical attention without identifying the patron, the ride, the nature of the injury or what caused it.

In the past, the California Supreme Court concluded that amusement rides were "common carriers," a legal category that includes trains, elevators and ski lifts. (Gomez v. Superior Court, 113 P.3d 41 (Cal.).) This ruling was important for potential plaintiffs because it placed a higher duty on amusement park operators. In Georgia, a common carrier is held to the duty of extraordinary care.

The case involved a woman who died two months after she allegedly sustained a brain injury on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. After the California Supreme Court's ruling, the case settled.

Some people argue that there are people who are predisposed to suffer brain injury from amusement rides yet that operators fail to provide adequate warning of that risk.

U.S. Congressman Ed Markey has introduced a bill that would repeal the exemption for fixed sites and enable the CPSC to collect injury data. It is questionable whether this bill will ever pass. It is sure to face heavy opposition from the parks and their lobbyists.

Questions or comments can be directed to the writer at: dick.dahl@lawyersusaonline.com