Although the amusement park industry is well known for its facility to provide fun-filled family entertainment, several injuries and deaths have occurred in them. In 2001 alone, there were three amusement park fatalities and nearly 8,500 amusement ride injuries cared for in hospital emergency rooms. Regardless of these figures, amusement park accidents are common and the industry remains largely unregulated.
The level of regulation relevant to an amusement ride depends on whether it is classified as a “mobile” or “fixed-site” ride. “Mobile” rides are usually transported from location to location as part of fairs, carnivals, parties or other events. A “fixed-site” ride is one permanently attached to the ground, such as those found in amusement parks, theme parks or similar places.
The guideline for amusement rides varies from state to state. Presently, ten states have no state-administered assessment programs for mobile rides. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have no state-administered programs for fixed-site rides. For example, Florida’s theme parks, which account for more than 20% of all amusement park business in the United States, are exempt from state regulatory laws.
Currently, no federal agency has the authority to directly observe the safety of “fixed-site” rides. Since 1981, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent federal regulatory agency, has had some authority over amusement rides, but exclusively over mobile rides. The lack of federal regulation over amusement parks and their fixed-site rides is due to “roller coaster loophole” language added to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act in 1981. The “roller coaster loophole” exempts fixed-site amusement rides from CPSC’s jurisdiction, preventing the investigation of theme park accidents by federal safety experts. It also prevents the CPSC from conducting safety inspections, requiring modifications and upgrades where necessary, and establishing a national safety information clearinghouse for amusement park rides, which could help prevent injuries and save lives.
Unless regulated, amusement parks, carnivals and fairs are not required to report amusement park injuries or the results of safety inspections. Because of this lack of required reporting, there is an insufficient amount of data regarding amusement ride safety, keeping consumers from being able to fully evaluate amusement park safety or amusement park injuries.
Amusement parks, carnivals, and fairs may be sued for amusement park injuries under a variety of theories, including premises liability, negligence and products liability. However, obtaining a recovery for an amusement park ride injury is generally quite difficult for some of the following reasons, among others:
1.The most common amusement park injury is usually to the neck or back, with resulting pain but no other physical manifestation. Because such injuries are not visible, proving their existence or that they were caused by the ride is not easy.
2. When there is no regulation, the amusement park often controls and conducts the investigation, making it difficult to collect evidence for a successful amusement park injury lawsuit.
3. Owners and operators of amusement parks are not required to protect patrons from every conceivable danger or hazard; i.e., they are not insurers of their patrons’ safety.
In some jurisdictions, a patron’s failure to obey written or oral safety instructions may greatly reduce or completely bar recovery.
4. Several states have “recreational use immunity” statutes that immunize property owners from liability when they open their property to the general public free of charge.
5. Courts may hold that the patron “assumed the risk” of injury by choosing to go on the ride, thereby precluding recovery.