While at a party recently, a friend of mine was checking Facebook and relayed to us in a near panicked voice about an amusement park rollercoaster that fell off its track and killed 13 people. The group he was addressing had very mixed reactions. Some reacted with horror and shock, but others playfully advised him that they had seen this story before and it was actually a hoax.
Thankfully that latter was correct and the story was in fact a cruel hoax. However, this served as a reminder that unfortunately not all visits to amusement parks end happily. This is peak amusement park season as many camps are finished and summer vacation is still in full swing. I remember vividly going on class trips from Stella Maris High School to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey. We were deposited at the park and directed to meet back at an appointed time. It was exciting as we were essentially left to our own devices. As we were all in high school, there were no age or height requirements put upon us, so no ride was off limits. We went on all the rollercoasters available to us at that time, all the thrill rides, and we were scared silly in the Haunted House. All of the girls had a great time; we all returned to our assigned meeting place at the end of the day and were deposited safely back at the school parking lot. A year after I graduated from high school, a fire in the haunted house at Great Adventure killed eight teenagers. Even today, more than 30 years later, the memory of that tragedy still lingers.
Most of the millions of visitors to amusement parks every year leave with fond memories. However, for some a day at the park ends with injury or worse, even death. Just a couple of weeks ago in London, four people were injured on a ride called the Smiler when it slammed into an empty car, and 16 people were left dangling for four hours. In 2013, a woman was killed in Texas when she was thrown out of her seat while on a rollercoaster. The causes of injuries or even death in amusement parks can include rides that malfunction, human error on the part of the operator or the participant, all of which may result in brain injuries, aneurysms, drowning, broken bones, or head, neck, and back injuries.
Currently there is no federal oversight of amusement parks. Regulation is left to the state and local governments. According to a report in US News and World Report, some parks fail to turn in their safety reports that include affidavits in which inspectors attest they’ve performed the inspections required by law. According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), currently 44 of 50 states regulate amusement parks. Those that do not are Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, and according to the website, these states have few if any parks.
Since federal safety officials are not allowed to address safety on rides, the state must bear the full burden of oversight that includes data collection, technical investigation of the accidents, and negotiating mitigation of manufacturing defects. It is debatable as to whether or not state or local agencies are putting the proper resources into these programs. Amusement parks can be a lot of fun but when it comes to putting your trust in the park, you should know the risks. Follow the safety regulations put up at the parks, know your limits, and have a great time!
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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