Amusement Park Accidents

Amusement park rides injure thousands of people each year. Learn about safety regulations and lawsuits related to theme park accidents.

By , Attorney

Amusement park rides (such as roller coasters, water slides, bumper cars, spinning rides, and the like) cause thousands of injuries each year -- everything ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and severe head trauma. The most serious theme park ride mishaps can even result in death. People injured by amusement park rides can bring a negligence claim against the park and its employees or a product liability claim against the manufacturer of a defective ride (or both). This article discusses the incidence of amusement park accidents, leading causes of injuries, government regulation of safety, and the most common legal claims and defenses in amusement park lawsuits.

How Common Are Amusement Park Accidents?

According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2006 approximately 8,800 people were injured on amusement park rides. These statistics reflect only those injuries serious enough to require emergency room treatment, which means the total number of injuries is even higher. An additional 3,600 people were injured on inflatable amusement park rides (inflatable slides and moon bounces) and another 3,100 were hurt on public water slides.

Children represent about one half of those injured by amusement park rides, with kids between ten and 14 years old sustaining the most injuries of any age group -- 17.9% of all reported injuries. Children are also the victims in three quarters of those accidents where a rider falls or is forcefully ejected from an amusement park ride.

From 1987 to 2000, 51 people were killed on amusement park rides. The biggest culprits were roller coasters (16 deaths) and whirling rides (11 deaths).

Types of Amusement Park Injuries

The most common injuries from amusement park accidents include:

  • head, neck, and back injuries from bumper car rides or from being whipped around on spinning rides and roller coasters
  • death as a result of falling or being thrown from a ride
  • stroke from trauma to ligaments in the neck
  • traumatic brain injury from G-forces and stresses imposed on the brain by extremely rapid speeds or from detached objects hitting the rider's head
  • brain aneurysms from roller coasters or other fast rides
  • lacerations, broken bones, and torn ligaments, and
  • drowning on water slides, "lazy river" rides, or other water rides.

Causes of Amusement Park Injuries

According to the CPSC, there are several leading contributors to amusement park injuries and fatalities. Most injuries occur due to:

  • Mechanical failure of the ride. For example, the lap bar detaches mid-ride, a roller coaster car detaches, or a structural component breaks. Mechanical failure could be caused by a manufacturing defect or the park's failure to maintain the ride.
  • Improper operation of the ride. For example, the operator abruptly stops the ride or incorrectly latches a seatbelt.
  • Passenger misuse or failure to follow instructions. For example, a rider intentionally rocks a car, stands up mid-ride, unlatches safety restraints, sits improperly, or holds a child above the safety restraint.
  • Inherent nature of the ride. Even without any mechanical defect, operation error, or rider misuse, an amusement park ride may still cause an injury simply because of the nature of the ride itself. For example, according to the CPSC, consumers have reported cases of cerebral and retinal hemorrhage, subdural hematoma, loss of consciousness, headache, and dizziness associated with the extremely rapid spinning of some amusement park rides.

Government Regulation of Amusement Park Rides

Government regulation of an amusement park ride depends on whether the ride is categorized as fixed-site or mobile. Fixed-site rides are permanent fixtures and do not travel from one location to another. Examples include the rides at Disneyland and Six Flags. Mobile rides travel from site to site, such as those you find at county fairs and carnivals. The CPSC regulates mobile amusement park rides. However, the CPSC has no authority to regulate fixed-site rides. This exclusion from regulation is a big one and is commonly referred to as the "Roller Coaster Loophole." Some states (approximately 28) regulate and conduct safety inspections of fixed-site rides. The remaining states rely on insurance companies or third party inspectors to check on amusement park safety and compliance with state and local regulations.

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