The recent death of a woman from a Play Land Ride in New York makes me question the safety of amusement parks. Just a week back, there was another new report of a young, 7 year old suffering leg injuries at Six Flags., when the free fall ride Superman Tower malfunctioned. I have never had the guts to get onto that one. Last Summer, I was happy just looking at it and taking pictures. Passengers experience a free fall of about 150 feet at the speed of 55 miles/hour, which is too much for me to bear.
Anyway, I decided to do some digging of my own. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has no authority fixed-site rides (Such as Six Flags). CPSC has jurisdiction over mobile rides, rides that moved from one location to another as part of fair, carnivals, parties or other events. Since 1981, fixed site amusement rides have been the subject of state and local regulation. You can read this file on the arguments whether the CPSC should be given jurisdiction over te fixed site ride.
If you take a look at the latest report available on the internet, you can see various injury statistics caused by mobile rides, inflatable rides (such as bounces and inflatable slides) and fixed rides.
From 1987 to 2002, for mobile and fixed-site amusement rides combined, there were an estimated 4.4 amusement-ride fatalities per year. When this report was prepared, CPSC had reports of 5 amusement ride fatalities in 2004 and 5 in 2003.
Legal Action and Remedies available: There are lots of sites that detail the actions that an injured party can take and the remedies available. I am copying some parts which I found to be particularly useful:
There are 4 possible grounds for action:
Negligence (lack of reasonable care): Negligence may be found if the ride was not in a safe condition, improperly maintained or inspected. Negligence may also be present if a park employee gave the visitor improper instructions, failed to provide proper warnings about the dangers of the ride, or operated the ride in such a way that the visitor was hurt. Employers are responsible for the actions of the employees, so injured visitors can sue the park owner if an employee fails to use reasonable care.
Most states have laws requiring amusement parks to take certain strict safety precautions. If a park does not do so, there will be a legal presumption that the park operated negligently, which makes it easer to prove a claim against the park.
In some states, owners and operators are not automatically insurers of the safety of park visitors. Therefore, they will only be liable when it can be proved that they acted negligently.
Product liability: Product liability may be found if a ride was so inherently dangerous that proper maintenance, inspection and use could not have prevented the injury. An injured person may sue both the manufacturer and the park, but to win, he/she must show that the manufacturer could have used an alternative design that would have prevented the injury, which obviously is both difficult and expensive to do. In addition, the person suing must also show that the park owner failed to use reasonable care when deciding to have the ride at all.
Another hurdle is that a court may find that a person assumed the risk in using the ride, and that it is unrealistic to expect manufacturers to take all sorts of precautions to make a ride 100% safe.
Premises liability: Property owners must exercise reasonable care in the construction, management and maintenance of all grounds and facilities. Failure to do so will make the owner liable for injuries suffered by people invited onto the property for business purposes, such as a park visitor. Even open and obvious dangers may result in liability.
Wrongful death: This is a death due to the careless, reckless or negligent act of another. Recent cases where an amusement park caused the death of a visitor have resulted in more than $1 million in settlements and damages.
I will definitely think a couple of times before going to any amusement park the next time.