1 A White Paper by the Personal Injury Attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC Rides, Lies, and Secrecy: As amusement and water park injuries are swept under the rug, can parents trust that their children are safe? Every year, over 340 million people U.S. spend their free time at the 400 amusement parks in the country. Another estimated 80 million North for our children to enjoy themselves, does anyone know how safe riders really are? Americans beat the summer heat by splashing in the continent s 1000 water parks. Attendance at amusement parks has been on the rise since 1997, and water parks generally see a 3-5 percent increase in visitors each year. Amusement parks have long been a multi-billion dollar industry, and the amount of money per year they brought in doubled between 1990 and It s no wonder why these parks are popular: food, carnival games, elaborate shows, water rides, roller coasters They offer something for almost everyone. Best of all, parents can catch some summer relaxation as their children use their energy riding merry-go-rounds, water slides, scramblers, log flumes, thrill rides, ferris wheels, bungee jumps, and many more traditional and state-of-the-art rides. But while we are dishing out hard-earned money Data on ride injuries has been kept intentionally hard to find, and even where it does exist, the statistics are incomplete. Currently, no single government or private organization can require injury reporting from all amusement parks or water parks across the country. A lot of the data on ride accidents is obtained through voluntary reporting, especially for less-than-severe injuries that are otherwise not required to be reported under many states laws. This scheme, however, is extremely flawed. It requires parks to honestly report the nature of the injuries that riders sustain, since government officials have little or no authority to factcheck the reports. In at least one case at Disney-MGM Studios, where a woman collapsed after sustaining bleeding in her brain, the official 33 N. LaSalle Street 20th Floor Chicago, Illinois Toll Free Phone Fax
2 notification simply said that the woman felt ill. estimated that 2,500 injuries had occurred on mobile (travelling) rides in 2004, including one fatality. That report also noted that there were 67 Voluntary reporting also means that parks can simply ignore requests for information. For example, only 134 out of 386 parks (34.7%) responded to a recent survey sent out by the National Safety Council, ride-related deaths between 1987 and 2004 on mobile and fixed site rides combined, averaging out to an estimated 4.4 fatalities on amusement rides each year. and of that fraction, many parks provided only incomplete responses, often leaving out their injury data completely. An organization called Saferparks, which also attempts to collect national information about ride safety, reports that more than 90% of its data comes from only 4 states parks. Saferparks also notes that there are significant gaps and inconsistencies in the number of reports it receives annually through public record requests to state agencies. Taking a different approach to data collection, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission s (CPSC) reports don t even rely on parks and carnivals for injury data. The CPSC looks to their National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is a collection of approximately 100 hospitals data on emergency room visits involving a product-related injury. Using this system, though, only injuries treated in emergency rooms are counted, and any injuries taken care of at home, in a doctor s office, or in a clinic are simply left out. Despite the seemingly low probability of any one visitor sustaining a fatal or severe injury, each operating season sees an onslaught of news reports about preventable ride accidents across the country. One such story that made several headlines in July of 2012 was about a 19-yearold Indianapolis girl whose long hair became caught in the axle of a go-kart. Eighty percent of her hair was torn out, her skin was separated from her skull, and she suffered a skull fracture. In another story from the spring of 2011, a train ride at Cleveland Park in South Carolina derailed with 29 passengers, mostly children, aboard. All of the train s passengers were taken to the hospital except one 6-year-old boy who had been killed in the crash. Just a couple of weeks following this incident, a 3-year-old boy also died as he fell from a ride at Go Bananas amusement park in Norridge, IL. The ride, a small roller coaster, was no more than 8 feet tall, and the boy had met the posted height requirements. In a larger roller coaster accident at Six Flags New Although ride injury data is seriously lacking, the results of the few existing national injury reports are worth noting. In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that 1,207 injuries occurred in fixed site (not travelling) amusement parks throughout the year. Of these, 59 were classified as serious injuries. These numbers are similar to the data England, 21 people were injured when two trains on the Superman Ride of Steel collided at about 20 mph. Some people were knocked unconscious, and other injuries included broken noses and broken jaws. One person was taken to the hospital with Priority 1 potentially critical injuries. from the year before, which saw an estimated 65 serious and 1,021 other injuries. In both years, for every million visitors in attendance there was an average of 4.4 ride-related injuries. Additionally, a CPSC report Travelling carnival and fair rides expose children to significant dangers as well. In August 2011, a small metal peg came loose during the
3 tube of a water slide, was struck by a second child. The 40 mph collision broke the second child s ankle, and a third rider also hit the young boy before staff noticed that he was stuck helplessly inside. Investigation revealed that a lifeguard had simply assumed that the boy had gotten off without triggering the safety sensor, so the guard overrode the system to allow others to enter the slide. In another water slide backup in New Jersey, 5 riders were sent to the hospital when six individual tubes became stuck in the middle of the ride. Two riders were removed on stretchers, and the ride was immediately closed down. Despite these recurring accidents, in 1981 Congress decided to confine the CPSC s regulatory authority to only mobile rides, such as those at travelling carnivals and fairs. Regulation of fixed-site parks is left up to the states, and only 44 of 50 states have passed laws demanding any safety standards, injury reporting requirements, or mandatory inspections. This means that each state is free to establish their own definition of injury and to require different guidelines for when accidents must be reported (if at all). Additionally, only some state officials choose to inspect parks themselves while others pass this operation of a Scrambler ride. The peg caused a lighting decoration to fall and injure 3 people, including one 17-year-old who required 70 stitches on the right side of his face. Just three months earlier, two teenagers were thrown from another popular carnival ride, the Zipper. As the two were exiting, the ride suddenly began moving. The teens required hospitalization for their injuries. Fair rides also sometimes collapse, as was the case in May 2008 at the Calaveras County Fair authority off to insurance companies and other private parties, even after accidents have already taken place. While the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions claims that parks can effectively regulate themselves to protect visitors, there is a clear business incentive for parks to sweep accident and injury reports under the rug in order to avoid negative press. No and Jumping Frog Jubilee in California. Twenty-three people were riding the Yo-Yo when it suddenly caved in mid-ride. The ride has several individual swings that are lifted off the ground and rotated around a center mechanical pole, and reports say that the arms keeping the seats suspended away from the center simply fell. Three people were seriously injured in this accident, and fifteen more were hurt. Water parks, too, pose more dangers for children than drowning or falling on wet pool decks. Equipment malfunctions have caused dangerous chemical exposures, and in one case, twenty swimmers were hospitalized due to the inhalation of toxic chlorine gas that had leaked out over a wave pool. Even when all of the safety equipment is functioning correctly, employee carelessness can cause danger. In one incident in February 2012 in Vermont, an 8-yr old boy, trapped in the
4 business wants to voluntarily tell its customers that its rides might send their children to the hospital later that day. On the other hand, moving away from self-regulation only half-heartedly has also left the industry a mess with a patchwork of laws and inconsistent requirements. A deliberate example of this is seen with Florida s major theme parks, like Disney World and Universal Studios. Florida legislators intentionally exempted these parks from state regulation as long as they employ more than 1000 employees and hire their own private on-site safety inspectors. In addition, these parks do not have to report any injuries except for those serious enough to require more than 24 hours of immediate medical treatment. Thus, more than half of the top 10 most popular amusement parks in the U.S. are in charge of their own safety standards, write their own inspectors paychecks, and have the right to keep all but the most serious injuries hidden from the public. Any other Florida park with less than 1000 employees, however, has to follow drastically different rules. When the powerhouses of the amusement park industry have worked this hard to keep visitors in the dark about their own safety, how is a victim supposed to fight against park leaders to get compensated for their medical bills, pain and suffering, and future losses? Scattered reporting requirements mean that ride safety data, which could be used in court to prove that the park was on notice of the risk of injuries, is spread among numerous sources and is incomplete. State-by-state regulations result in isolated investigations of a ride that could have identical counterparts in a dozen other states parks, but because there is no centralized authority, it is extremely difficult to track down reports of accidents on similar rides across state lines. Additionally, in exchange for a settlement, parks oftentimes have required other victims to agree to stay silent about similar accidents, making it nearly impossible for later victims to collect evidence about recurring problems that the park should have fixed but didn t. When the victim is a child, damages may be difficult to quantify without the help of medical experts
5 because of the differing abilities of children of each developmental stage to heal. Parks can use the uncertainty of future injuries to their advantage when a victim or their parents don t have the time or money required to fully research those future consequences. In sum, these behemoth companies are very experienced in intimidating, manipulating, and bullying the thousands of injured visitors each year into settling for far less than they deserve. Whether a victim s case involves a product liability claim for a defective ride design, a negligence action for a ride operator s failure to properly check safety restraints, or a premises liability claim for failure to adequately light a loading area, Romanucci & Blandin will force park owners to squarely face the consequences of making safety their second priority. They will not let a park s lawyers use their smoke and mirrors or scare tactics to force a victim into settling for less than full compensation for both present and future losses. Until better laws are This does not mean that there is no hope, however. A team of skilled attorneys who specialize in amusement and water park injuries, like those at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, can be extremely successful in helping victims receive justice and fair payment for their injuries. These passed to guarantee ride and theme park safety for all visitors and their children, attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin will fight vehemently on the front lines to protect victims and to get them the justice that they deserve. attorneys are able to locate similar accident reports from the various state authorities, will track down other victims whether locally or across state lines, and can communicate with other attorneys handling similar cases elsewhere. Also skilled in child injury cases, Romanucci & Blandin s lawyers will be sensitive to the unique effects that injuries can have on a growing child, and they will work with doctors and medical With the assistance of Angela Kurtz Law Clerk, Romanucci & Blandin, LLC Candidate Juris Doctor 2013 October 5, 2012 experts to determine how much an injury will affect the child s development in the future.
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