May through September is the busiest time of year for most amusement and water parks throughout the country. Each summer, millions of people patronize these parks, hoping to make memories and looking for exhilarating thrills. Unfortunately, tragedies can occur and this summer has proven to be one of the most dangerous ones on record.
On August 7, a 10-year-old boy was killed while riding the world’s tallest water slide inside the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. Investigators are said to be treating the death as a “civil matter”, and do not believe there is anything suspicious about it. The waterslide named “Verruckt” – German for insane – is the main attraction within the waterpark, and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its height. According to the Park’s website, a three-person raft slides down a 168 foot, 7 inch slide. Passengers must be at least 4 feet, 6 inches tall, and the combined weight of all passengers must be between 400 and 550 pounds. Riders are buckled in and enclosed by a net.
Witnesses claim to have seen the boy come down the slide, followed by a trail of blood. After the tragedy, it was reported that the young boy was decapitated on the ride. Investigators are still trying to determine what exactly happened. The two other women on the ride suffered minor facial injuries, but are said to not be ready to speak publicly about what happened.
Aside from the Kansas City fatality, there have been a slew of reported amusement park tragedies just within the last week all across the US.
Three girls fell from a Ferris wheel at a county fair in Greeneville, Tennessee. The two youngest, aged 6 and 10, fell 35-40 feet. The girls, as well as the 16 year old who was riding with them, were transported to Niswonger Children’s Hospital with severe injuries. Authorities stated that a mechanical error caused the gondola to tip over.
On August 11, a boy was injured when he fell out of a rollercoaster at the Idlewild and SoakZone in Pennsylvania. Very limited details have been released about the cause and the injuries sustained, but he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. The rollercoaster in question – the Rollo Coaster — was built in 1938, and apparently does not include seat belts. Reports claim that on August 6, the rollercoaster passed its inspection.
In May, a young girl in Nebraska suffered horrific injuries when her hair became caught in a ride in Omaha. Her scalp was ripped off and she endured a brain injury.
According to online articles, amusement parks see an average of 4,423 injuries per year. Even more frightening is the fact that there are 20 injuries daily from May through September. In New Jersey, more injuries occur in water parks than any other kind of amusement park. Data shows that from 2009-2014, out of the 552 amusement park accidents, 122 occurred on a water slide. Overall, forty percent of all accidents happened in some form of water-related ride.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for overseeing the safety of rides often used during county fairs and other amusement parks. According to an article from USA Today, “Permanent rides, such as the massive slide at Schlitterbahn, must report injuries but otherwise generally fall under state oversight. The Commission used to oversee fixed rides, but Congress stripped it of this power in 1981.”
According to Senior Partner Samuel Davis, claims against amusement parks generally require the filing of premises liability lawsuits in which we allege that the park was negligent in the manner that they ran or maintained the rides. Often, we go after the company which designed or manufactured the ride.
New Jersey is one of the few states that regulate consumer amusement park attractions, but there is a major restriction in the law. In New Jersey, normally someone has two years to file a lawsuit, however, if someone is injured on an amusement ride, they are required to file a special Written Report of Accident with the amusement park operator, or make sure the incident was reported at the time of the accident in the appropriate manner. For more information on the NJSA5.3-31 law, click here.