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Accidents can ruin summer fun at amusement parks

By Kurt Maier, Partner
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley LLP

amusement park Who hasn’t enjoyed a great ride at an amusement park in the summer months? It’s a staple of summer fun and entertainment for children, teens and adults. Your trip to an amusement park should be free of worry about accidents and injuries, but it’s becoming all too common to see serious injuries inflicted because of careless operation of amusement park rides.

There certainly are well-maintained amusement parks, and there are also those that are not. You probably won’t be able to tell which one you’ve chosen by looking at them.

Kentucky amusement parks have certainly had cases of serious injuries. The one that almost everyone remembers is the 2007 incident at Six Flags in Louisville (which has since closed). A 16-year-old girl was riding the Superman Tower of Power ride when a cable wrapped around her feet and severed them. The girl’s family sued the park.

At the Louisville Zoo, a small train designed for parents and their children crashed. One man had his leg pinned under the train and had a series of eight surgeries to repair the damage. He had missed 18 months of work at the time of the lawsuit. A small child had disfiguring face injuries, and many others were injured in other ways. The claims were eventually settled.

Negligence claims are common

Surely, risk is part of a trip to an amusement park. Everyone understands that. But most of us assume that the park has properly trained its ride operators and that the rides are safe. That’s often where we see issues in cases, that amusement park operators haven’t done their part to ensure that everyone working the ride knows how to safely operate it and what the dangers are in failing to do so.

To receive a legal remedy for negligence, the amusement park accident needs to have occurred because of the carelessness of a park worker or employee. In most negligence claims, the plaintiff needs to prove that the law required the defendant to be reasonably careful, that the defendant was not careful, and that this carelessness caused the plaintiff to be injured.

If an employee is negligent, injured parties may sue the park for that employee’s actions. The park or its employees may be negligent by doing something or by failing to do something. Those acts of negligence can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Improperly loading or over loading the ride with weight to one side
  • posting signs that don’t adequately warn riders of the risks involved
  • failing to properly train ride operators
  • failing to maintain equipment in a safe condition
  • failing to regularly inspect the rides
  • improperly operating a ride, or
  • providing incorrect or hard to understand instructions to riders.

Product liability is another possible claim

Once a ride is installed in an amusement park, it needs to be inspected, tested and maintained before customers are allowed to ride on it. Even after it is open to the public, this process should continue throughout the busy summer months and during the winter when the park is closed. Rides are also subject to inspections by a state agency. In Kentucky, the Department of Agriculture, Division of Regulation and Inspection, is the organization that conducts this function. In Tennessee, it falls under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Amusement Device Unit.

Structural or design defects in the ride itself may give rise to defective product liability claims against the manufacturer of the ride or the maker of the defective part. In these claims, plaintiffs must prove that the structure, equipment, or part was defective and that the defect specifically caused injury or death to the victim.

Amusement park disclaimers don’t work

Sometimes your amusement park tickets come with a disclaimer on the back. Typically, this is legal language indicating that if you are injured or die while at the park, you absolve the park of all liability (meaning, you can’t sue them). This usually isn’t adequate to protect an amusement park from a legal claim. These defenses are too general and broad, and judges know that most patrons don’t read the disclaimers.

In addition, it’s questionable, at best, whether a child or teenager that is legally unable to enter into a contract can be held to what the amusement park is attempting to do (absolve itself of legal liability) via the disclaimer.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident at an amusement park, please contact our firm, English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP. We can assist you with your case against the amusement park, insurance carriers and other organizations that should be held accountable for their actions. Contact me, attorney Kurt Maier, at (270) 781-6500 or kmaier@elpolaw.com.