According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA)
, more than 375 million guests visit theme parks in North America every year. That’s a lot of people! Many of these guests frequent amusement parks in Pennsylvania, which has 9,300 registered rides – more than any other state.
While statistics and studies reveal the popularity of amusement parks, they also show the dangers. A 2013 study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital
exposed the alarming rate at which children under the age of 18 were injured by amusement park accidents. The number of emergency room visits associated with the injuries averaged 20 per day during the months of May through September!
Although many parents assume that national safety regulations protect their children at amusement parks, they are wrong. In 1981, the U.S. Congress decided that amusement parks would no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Inspection and oversight of amusement park rides are left to the discretion of state and local governments, and in some locations, the parks are allowed to police themselves.
3 Major Amusement Park Accidents in 4 Days
Schlitterbahn Waterpark (The Kansas City Star)
The month August, 2016 has had its share of serious amusement park accidents, all of them involving children.
The Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City was the site of a water slide accident that claimed the life of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on August 7, 2016. Caleb suffered a fatal neck injury at the end of the “Verruckt” ride, while the 2 women riding in the raft with him sustained minor facial injuries.
According to Guiness World Records, the “Verruckt” water slide measures 168 feet tall
, making it the world’s tallest water slide. The ride’s safety belts were secured merely by a Velcro-like material, and the integrity of the cloth straps may have been compromised due to prolonged water exposure. Caleb was ejected from his raft during its descent, a harrowing drop which could have reached speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.
One day after the death of Caleb Schwab, three girls were injured in an amusement park accident at the Greene County Fair in Tennessee when the Ferris wheel they were riding malfunctioned. The parents of two of the girls were horrified when they noticed that the Ferris wheel gondola carrying their daughters was tilting. The young victims desperately tried to cling to the leaning gondola, which was approximately 40 feet above the ground when the girls fell.
The girls hit sections of the Ferris wheel during their fall to the ground below. The youngest victim, 6-year-old Briley Reynolds, sustained the most serious injury, which doctors classified as a traumatic brain injury. The ride did not have safety belts or lap restraints, neither of which were required by law. Safety inspectors cited mechanical failure as the cause of the accident.
Three days following the incident in Tennessee, a 3-year-old boy fell from a wooden roller coaster
at the Idlewild Park & SoakZone located near Lingonier, Pennsylvania. Young Declan McClain was involved in an amusement park accident when he tumbled about 10 feet to the ground while riding the Rollo Coaster with his 7-year-old-brother.
State and local officials are investigating the cause of the roller coaster accident, which injured Declan’s head. Ride protocol should have prevented the brothers from riding the roller coaster without an adult, and experts have stated that ride operators could be to blame.
Amusement Park Accidents in Wildwood, New Jersey
On June 3, 2011, Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, was the destination for students and teachers from a Pleasantville, NJ school. The field trip ended in tragedy when an 11-year-old girl fell from a ferris wheel while the ride was in motion.
At the time of the accident, young Abiah Jones was riding alone in a Ferris wheel gondola that was about halfway up the ride, or approximately 50 feet above the ground. Tragically, Abiah fell from the gondola and died. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of her fall and labeled the incident a freak accident.
Just two months later, Morey’s Piers in Wildwood was again the scene of an accident when a section of the Sea Dragon pirate ship attraction collapsed while the ride was in motion. Several people were treated for minor injuries at the park, and a 13-year-old girl sustained permanent injuries that required hospitalization. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the girl claims that the amusement park’s management ignored warning signs of the ride’s impending collapse for at least nine years prior to the 2011 incident.
Amusement Park Safety Regulations
Standardized amusement park safety regulations in the U.S. are nonexistent because the federal government gives the states oversight authority. Six states choose not to regulate amusement parks at all! They are Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming (the latter of which has no amusement parks).
In the states that regulate amusement parks, inspection requirements vary widely, and some states further delegate the responsibility to local authorities. Experts regard the regulations in Kansas and Texas as some of the most lenient in the country, while the amusement park industry legal requirements in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are considered to be some of the strictest.
In Pennsylvania, state law mandates the inspection of amusement rides at least every 30 days by certified inspectors. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture oversees the amusement park industry
and maintains an online database with searchable ride inspection reports.
Preventing Theme Park Accidents
To help prevent amusement park accidents, experts at the IAAPA advise parents to abide by the following amusement ride safety tips:
- Comply with the listed age, height, weight, and health restrictions.
- Obey all posted ride safety rules, as well as the verbal instructions given by ride operators and recorded announcements.
- Place hands, arms, legs and feet inside the ride and keep them there at all times.
- Secure all personal articles that could fall, such as wallets, cell phones, sunglasses, change, and hats.
- Never attempt to board an amusement park ride impaired.
- Remain in your seat until the ride comes to a complete stop and you have been instructed to exit.
- Always use safety equipment provided such as seat belts, safety bars, and harnesses. Never wriggle free of or loosen restraints or other safety devices.
- Adults should always make sure children understand and follow safety tips and appropriate ride behavior.
- It is never appropriate to force anyone, especially a child, to ride an attraction.
Make sure to report any unsafe behavior or condition on a ride that you witness to the amusement park manager or supervisor immediately.
If Your Child Has Been the Victim of an Amusement Park Accident
Amusement parks are popular destinations for fun family outings, but failure to comply with safety laws and guidelines can lead to tragedy in an instant.
The attorneys of Donaghue & Labrum understand the devastating effects that accidents involving children, including amusement park accidents, have on parents. When children are injured, parents want to focus on their healing, not litigation. At Donaghue & Labrum, we are compassionate with our clients and aggressive when we represent their legal interests.
If your child has been injured in an accident, you need a lawyer who will fight to get your family the compensation to which you are entitled. With decades of experience, we know how to take on big corporations and win. Contact the law offices of Donaghue & Labrum to set up your free consultation today.