Amusement Ride and Theme Park Liability
So you go to a theme park, carnival, or local fair looking to have a good time with your friends and family. You think that all of the rides have been inspected by professionals, meet national design standards, and are therefore completely safe for you and family.
The truth may be surprising about how little oversight and regulation there is and how little forethought is put towards designing rides that are safe. The rides that cause serious and life changing injuries are not always the ones that deliver the most G-forces and the best ride. Amusement rides often have exposed mechanical components that can catch hair or clothing.
Serious injuries and death have occurred on rides at Disney World, Busch Gardens, Sea World, and Universal Studios. Other serious injuries have occurred at the Florida Strawberry Festival and state fairs that have traveling rides. Further still, injuries are occurring at indoor trampoline or adventure parks, indoor gyms, or zip line parks.
We all like to have fun and rides that deliver g-forces are often the most fun. These rides are typically well designed and found in the most popular theme parks. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people can go through a ride before the right (or wrong) conditions surface to cause an injury or death.
Good design includes enough factors of safety (design tolerances) to allow for things such as wear and tear, material fatigue, temperature, or other prolonged conditions that can cause a dangerous condition to occur. The actual cause of the incident is important to determine.
Regular Inspections or Lack Thereof
You might be surprised that Florida exempts large theme parks from periodic safety inspections. The large theme parks have a powerful influence in Tallahassee and are exempted if they have more than 1,000 regular employees and have their own internal safety procedures and inspections.
When it comes to large theme parks (i.e. Disney, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, and Sea World to name a few), this is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house. While there may be some in-house inspectors and employees who genuinely care about safety, the truth is that a very expensive repair can get in the way of a quarterly profit statement that needs to be positive for investors. It is only naive to think otherwise.
These parks know that people will still keep coming even if there’s an injury to a patron.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspects all permanent rides twice per year and all temporary rides each time they are set up in a new location. The department is also charged with investigating accidents and safety violations. While the department has the legal authority under the law (section 616.242, Fla. Stat. and Chapter 5J-18, F.A.C.), they rarely do, even after a serious injury has occurred.
Real Life Experience
In one case that Mr. Russo handled, a child was injured in a ride at a local fair. The ride left town before the child’s parents could hire counsel (less than a week after the injury) and it was many months later that we had an opportunity to inspect the ride. The department found nothing unsafe about the ride and failed to take any action against the owner. However when we inspected the ride, it was clear to us that the gap between moving surfaces was too big to be safe.
This is a true story of how the department merely rubber stamps just about every ride in existence. When consumers pay money to go into these rides, they have no idea of what might happen to them.
A Ride is Not Safe Just Because It Has Been “Inspected”
It is further interesting to mention that Florida law requires a ride “inspector” to have 5 years experience in the industry in addition to some seminars every year. At first blush, you might think that the “inspectors” must be experienced people who are genuinely interested in promoting safety.
On the other hand, the only people who have 5 years experience “in the industry” are people who have made their living operating these machines. Common sense suggests that this means that they know all of the industry’s dirty secrets. Why else is a ride owner is seldom, if ever, cited for a safety violation in Florida?
If You Have Been Injured, You Need to Hire a Lawyer
After an injury occurs on a ride, the ride should be shut down until a proper investigation into the cause can be completed. If you are the one who suffers the injury, you are taken to a hospital for treatment and you are not typically given an opportunity to look for what caused the injury.
When that situation happens, you should seek legal counsel to help you determine what the cause of the injury for your benefit and the benefit of the public.
A personal injury attorney who handles adventure, amusement and theme park injuries can help you determine whether your injury is legally actionable and can help find the right experts to prove your case. If you are in this situation, please contact us for a free consultation.
See Our Blog Articles
For recent legal topics, please see our personal injury blog or read our answers to frequently asked questions. We help clients located in Polk County, including Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, and Haines City, Florida obtain justice after a serious injury on an amusement ride or adventure park for children.