As the summer sun is about to warm us with its vibrant beams, we think of family get-togethers and having fun in theme parks.
We wish the spine-chilling and gravity–defying roller coasters, echoing laughter of kids having fun in the spinning tea cups, and thrilling water-rides will leave lasting memories of the joy shared among people.
However, we should not neglect the danger lurking behind all the fun we are about to have- the accidents in theme parks.
LezDo TechMed, a trusted partner of theme park accident attorneys, has the knowledge to shed light on the medical facts and details critical to their success.
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Thrill or risk?
When people pass through the gates of the theme parks, they are ready to have a blast of fun. What if the very rides that gush our adrenaline glands cheat us? Let’s have glance about it here.
The U.S. has more than 600 large to regional theme parks as of today in 2023, with an increase of nine percent from the previous year.
Whether the old-fashioned theme parks of the 19th to early 20th centuries or the stat-of-the-art complexes of modern day Disney World, Six Flags or Universal Studios, millions of people across the world flock at these parks each year, seeking fun, excitement, and unforgettable experiences.
The theme parks are generally designed with safety as a paramount concern. The chances of getting injured in a theme park ride in the U.S. is only 1 in 15.5 million rides, says the International organization of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).
Though very rare, when the accidents in amusement parks happen, they derail the lives of many.
Minor or severe, around 30,000 accidents in theme parks-related injuries are reported every year. From minor incidents like trip-and-fall accidents to more severe incidents involving ride malfunctions, these theme parks accidents can result in injuries or, in rare cases, fatalities.
How many roller coaster accidents per year derail human lives?
Between 1987 and 2000, around 50 people succumbed to death due to the fatal injuries they sustained while riding in the theme parks. Roller coasters caused the most number of fatalities followed by the spinning rides.
Between 1990 and 2004, there were 52 deaths reported in amusement park rides and it would be 3.7 deaths on roller costers per year.
In this blog, we are taking you a tour of the rides and the dangers behind the attractive, colossal structures, legal liabilities and some of the worst amusement park accidents.
Why do accidents in theme parks happen?
Your great load of fun can turn into a whirlpool of sorrow due to someone’s negligence. The callousness can be either from the theme park maintenance staff or the guests who are using the rides. On the other hand, mechanical failures and weather-related disasters also can lead to detrimental accidents.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), various factors are involved in the accidents at theme parks. The risks of amusement parks activities like the ones listed below can trigger life-altering rollercoaster accidents.
Ride operators in theme parks should be extra cautious as they are handling mammoth rides, and a minor carelessness can cause huge mishaps. Incidents like negligence in buckling the rider’s seat belt, stopping the ride abruptly, not giving proper instructions to the riders, failing to ensure that there is no debris along the tracks, or even operating the rides at speeds higher than the recommended levels can cause fatal accidents.
Negligent operators can be held liable in the case of any operator errors caused the accidents. The theme park owner or the management authority can be held culpable for not giving adequate training to their staff.
The visitors also have responsibilities while riding the roller coasters or spinning wheels. Not following the operators’ instructions, improper use of the safety harness, attempting adventurous activities like rocking the car or not complying with the age and height restrictions can also cause the life-altering injuries.
Mechanical failures is the most common cause of accidents on theme parks.
Mechanical failures can be due to the design flaw, lack of maintenance, latch failures, or the failure of the other structural components, which can lead to the catastrophes.
Nature of the Rides
In some cases, the nature of the ride itself can cause detrimental injuries to the riders. As the ride spins or moves at extreme speeds, it can cause subdural hematoma, brain or retinal hemorrhage, headache, dizziness, loss of consciousness to riders, especially those who are with some pre-existing medical conditions. Accidents on roller coasters are the worst in causing deadly injuries.
Types of Theme Park Injuries
As per the latest safety report for IAAPA in 2021, approximately 130 theme-park related injuries were reported in the North American amusement parks.
Tightening up your body or bending forward as you ride a theme park ride can put a strain on your muscles, ligaments, and bones, increasing your chances of injury.
Let’s preview the different types of injuries that occur from the accidents in theme parks.
- Injuries to the head, neck, and back due to the jolting movements experienced on bumper cars, spinning rides, and roller coasters.
- Fatalities resulting from individuals plummeting or being ejected from an amusement ride.
- Cerebrovascular injuries triggered by neck ligament trauma
- Traumatic brain injuries caused by high gravitational forces and rapid speeds experienced on rides or by loose items striking the rider’s head.
- Cerebral aneurysms as a consequence of high-speed amusement park rides.
- Lacerations, fractured bones, bruises, and ruptured ligaments
- Instances of drowning on water-based attractions such as water slides, or white water rafting rides, or other similar features.
Regulations and safety standards: Are they enough?
The CPSC regulates the carnivals, fairs or theme parks that are mobile or move from site to site. However, fixed theme parks like Disney World, Cedar point and Six Flags do not come under the CPSC but are regulated by the state or local agencies.
This exclusion of fixed-rides from the list of the CPSC is considered the Roller Coaster Loophole.
According to the IAAPA, forty-four states follow strong amusement ride regulations. The level of regulations, however, varies, with only 20 states guaranteeing extensive government monitoring, including periodic checks and the power to investigate incidents.
The states, like Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah, have no governmental oversight as they have a few or no amusement parks.
Furthermore, international standards for theme park ride safety are developed by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International. Their standards cover every aspect of ride safety, from design and manufacturing to operation and maintenance.
The ASTM F24 Committee for Amusement Rides has developed safety standards for manufacture and construction of amusement rides, measuring the dynamic characteristics of amusement rides, guides for auditing the rides, etc.
Famous Theme Parks in the U.S.
Some of the theme parks in the U.S. are listed below:
- Cedar Point
- Disney’s California Adventure Park
- Disney World
- Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Knotts Berry Farm
- Legoland California
- Nickelodeon Universe
- Pacific Park
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Silver Dollar City
- Six Flags Magic Mountain
- Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando
Worst Theme Park Accidents: Case Studies
Orlando FreeFall drop tower, ICON Park, March 24, 2022:
In the list of theme park accidents Tyre Sampson tragedy comes first in the memory of many.
Nekia Dodd’s 14-year-old son Tyre Sampson slipped down from the 400-ft FreeFall drop tower just a few seconds after the ride started its fall, which ended in his death from blunt force trauma.
The investigation unveiled the fact that the boy was not securely fastened to the seat. Tyre Sampson, a boy with 383 pounds weight was allowed in a ride with a 287 pound weight limit. To fit him, the inexperienced operator had loosened the harness and, then adjusted to tighten the strap. There was more gap between the strap and the seat than normal.
The operator turned out to be a trainee with just three days’ experience in operating the ride. The family pursued a lawsuit against the park, operator, manufacturers of the ride and the chair. After a year’s struggle, the family settled the claim against defendants except the ride’s chair manufacturer.
Finally, the Free Fall ride was taken down after a year of Sampson’s death in this Roller coaster accident Orlando.
Roller Coaster Accidents Cedar Point, August 16, 2021:
Many Cedar Points accidents has been recorded earlier. On August 16, 2021, at Cedar Point, Rachel Hawes of Michigan (44-year-old) was waiting for the ride and was hit traumatically by a falling debris from the Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster. The 420-ft ride was about to come to a stop, when a piece fell off and hit the victim’s head.
The park said that a small piece of object flew from the roller coaster, while an onlooker said that it was huge as the size of a football. Another eyewitness informed that it looked like a metal disc, which was flying through the air before hitting the woman.
This top thrill dragster accident victim was hospitalized later and was in the intensive care for a brain injury. After the incident, the roller coaster was closed down.
Rachel Hawes injury update- Despite her lengthy recovery in the hospital, her family confirmed that she survived. She was fortunate enough to withstand the entire ordeal and stay alive.
Xtreme Super Sizzler, Harvest Festival Fair, October 12, 2019:
Ten-year-old Hailey Lynn McMullen was ejected from her seat while riding the Xtreme Super Sizzler ride at the Harvest Festival in Cumberland County. The fall injured her fatally. Though she was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital soon, she died after an hour of the fall.
The parents of the girl pursued lawsuit alleging that the ride was not meant for smaller kids. Moreover, California officials had made seat belts mandatory for all sizzler rides in 2006 itself but the Super Sizzler did not have any seat belts.
The ride owner, Skelly’s Amusements, later claimed that the Super Sizzler did not need any seat belt and was different from the other sizzler rides mentioned by the California officials.
The ride owner dismantled the ride later.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, June 2, 2002:
The six flags goliath incident proved the dangers of roller coasters for people with pre-existing medical conditions. While riding Goliath, a 28-year-old woman experienced a fatal brain aneurysm. Her autopsy proved that the aneurysm existed prior to the woman entering the park. However, the stress from the ride was most likely a factor of her death.
The woman’s parents pursued a wrongful death against Six Flags, stating that the park knew of past serious injuries caused by the ride.
Krug Park Big Dipper Roller Coaster, July 24, 1930:
One of the worst roller coaster accidents happened in the Big Dipper Roller Coaster. This Krug Park roller coaster accident took the lives of four riders and injured 17 others.
Due to a faulty bolt that was meant to hold the break shoe of one of the cars got entangled under the wheels of one of the cars and made it go off the track pulling four other cars along with it. All the passengers riding in those cars were crushed under the wrecks.
Following the horrifying accident, the park was closed permanently in 1940.
Amusement Park Accidents 2023
In the recent theme park accidents, joins the Florida State Fair and the DreamWorks Water Park.
Florida State Fair
According to New York Post, in an unusual mishap at Tampa’s Florida State Fair on February 17, a joyride unexpectedly halted with passengers still aboard. The abrupt stop left the riders suspended in mid-air, with some carriages swaying back and forth and others inverted, leaving passengers hanging precariously.
A witness complained that she was scared that the kids might fall out as there was no seat belt or harnesses.
DreamWorks Water Park
On February 19, 2023, a helicopter-themed decorative piece plummeted into a children’s pool at the American Dream Mall in New Jersey. The pool, designed specifically for toddler play, suddenly turned into a scene of chaos. Four injuries were documented as a result of this unexpected incident.
Preventive Measures: How Can Theme Parks Ensure Safety?
In response to these tragic incidents, theme parks have continuously been making efforts to improve safety. There’s a heavy emphasis on regular maintenance, safety checks, and comprehensive staff training. Several parks have also initiated campaigns to educate visitors about the importance of following safety guidelines.
Moreover, organizations like the IAAPA are instrumental in promoting safety standards, conducting inspections, and providing resources to parks worldwide. They are consistently working with theme parks to ensure safety without compromising the fun.
Let’s see how the dangers of theme park accidents can be eliminated.
Most of the roller coaster tragedies can be avoided with little caution from the riders and operators.
- Obey the age, weight and health restrictions laid for each ride.
- Ensure the seat belt is fastened securely, and never attempt to loosen the restraints.
- Keep all the articles, like wallets, coins, sun glasses, cell phones, etc., away before the ride or secure them from falling off.
- Be sober during the ride. Impaired riding can lead to detrimental ends.
- Follow all the safety instructions of the operator.
- Keep your body be comfortably fit in the riding chair. If any inconvenience is felt, inform the operator before the ride.
- Parents should ensure if the kid can follow the instructions.
- In case of having any pre-existing conditions, stay away from riding.
- Understand and pursue all safety rules and procedures.
- Maintain a clean, and risk-free environment.
- Report dangerous situations that could lead to an accident as soon as possible.
- Complete the inspection checklists before operating the ride.
- Establish safe work habits and take part in safety training.
- Properly train the operators
- Ensure regular equipment maintenance
- Inspect the rides regularly
- Post adequate warning signs
- Mechanical errors can be avoided if adequate care was taken while manufacturing, installing and maintaining the fascinating rides.
- Manufacturers should ensure that the rides are flawless and manufactured following the safety standards.
- Installers of fixed rides or mobile rides must ascertain that they are properly and firmly fixed to the ground and in no way move from their places.
- Maintenance team should double check if the rides are in good condition. Any wear and tear or metal corrosion should be adequately checked and rectified then and there to avoid mishaps. Any debris on the tracks should be eliminated at once.
What should you do after a theme park accident?
- Report the accident or injury to the theme park authority.
- Can get the aid of theme park’s medical staff in taking care of the injuries. Any delay in getting the medical aid can belittle one’s injury and question the credibility of it.
- In case of detrimental injuries, one should be taken to the expert medical care without any delay.
- Get all the injuries documented in the medical records.
- Gather the vital evidence by capturing the accident scene in videos or photos.
- Collate the statement and contact information of the eyewitnesses as their words can strengthen the lawsuit.
- Seeking legal assistance is as important as getting the medical help. Get an accomplished theme park accident attorney to shoulder the claim.
An experienced theme park accident lawyer can identify the person liable for the accident, and the look for the vital evidence that can substantiate the claim.
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Legal Backdrop of Amusement Park Accidents
The amusement park claims can be filed in different categories like negligence, product liability, premises liability and wrongful death, depending on the circumstances that led to the accident.
Accidents in theme parks can often be attributed to negligence, which is sometimes an unavoidable factor. If an operator or an employee’s negligence results in injury to a rider, it’s the victim’s responsibility to demonstrate that this negligent behavior directly caused their harm.
Owners of theme parks owe their guests a duty of care. If their actions, thereof, result in injury, this breaches their obligation to provide a safe environment. In such circumstances, the injured party has the right to pursue a claim against the responsible parties.
Product liability claims:
If a design or manufacturing defect is the root cause of the victim’s injuries, the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer may be held accountable for the resulting damages.
In order to establish a successful product liability claim, the injured party must present evidence that the malfunctioning ride or its components were the cause of their injuries. In these situations, liability can often be attributed to multiple parties.
If the hazards on the premises of the theme park become the cause of the accident and injuries of the victims, the company that’s responsible to maintain the park clutter-free and the rides safe enough to function can be sued for their inaction or negligence.
The liable parties in a theme park accident can be as listed below:
- Theme park owners
- Ride operators
- Property management or maintenance companies
- Ride manufacturers
- Insurance companies
Accidents in theme parks cause permanent or long-standing injuries or disabilities that could deprive people of all their enjoyment. Since the injuries can be fatal, the rehabilitation prolongs adding up the financial burden.
Plaintiffs can claim the below noted damages while pursuing the theme park accident claims.
- Present and future medical expenses
- Lost wages and future loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Punitive damages
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional distress
Wrongful death benefits like burial or funeral expenses, financial support to the decedent’s descendants or dependents, loss of companionship and support to the spouse or partner.
As a final word, it’s essential to acknowledge the risks associated with theme parks, though they’re still one of the safest forms of recreation. To put that in a nutshell, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to be seriously injured at a theme park.
So, as we gear up for another summer of cotton candy, thrilling rides, and laughter, let’s not forget the importance of safety. After all, the true magic of a theme park lies not in its towering roller coasters or dazzling shows but in the shared joy and lasting memories it brings us.
Know the dangers of roller coasters and be conscious before climbing into one.
Enjoy the adrenaline rush, but remember to heed the safety instructions to have safer rides.