“Terminal Velocity,” a so-called amusement ride at Extreme World in the Wisconsin Dells, caused a young tourist to plunge 100 feet to the ground, leaving her paralyzed, unable to speak, and with a hole in her stomach through which she is fed. The 12-year-old Parkland, Florida girl had seen the ride on a Travel Channel program that called it the world’s largest unattached free-fall ride. The ride’s safety net designed to break the fall, did not catch her, reports The Miami Herald.
The ride’s operator, a park manager, immediately admitted he just blanked out and didn’t know why. He failed to wait for his co-worker’s signal below indicating that the safety net was up, before releasing the rider. In Wisconsin, the district attorney has charged the operator with first-degree reckless injury, a felony that could lead to 25 years in prison. In South Florida, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit is being prepared against the ride’s manufacturing company and designers.
Amusement Park Jurisdiction
Regarding this type of Resort Tort there is no federal agency with jurisdiction over fixed amusement rides such as theme parks. That is left to state and local authorities to inspect, monitor and regulate. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has jurisdiction over mobile rides, such as those found at fairs, carnivals and parties. According to the CPSC, in 2004 mobile amusement rides resulted in 2500 injuries requiring emergency room treatment. In that same year, the CPSC estimated 3400 such injuries at fixed site rides during the same period.
Of course, the owner/operator of a hotel, resort, amusement of theme park is subject to the law of respondeat superior and actual and apparent agency to the same extent any other employer is. Therefore, they are liable for the negligent acts and omissions of their employees and agents.
Amusement Park Injury Reporting
In 2001 the amusement park industry trade group, The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), began producing its own injuries-per-ride-cycle figure for amusement rides (roller coasters, Ferris wheels, etc.) operated at fixed site locations. Their methodology is that IAAPA asks its members each year to report the number of riders they’ve processed through the turnstiles of their mechanical amusement rides, and the number of customers they know of who were treated by a doctor for injuries caused by any of those rides. They then come up with a number of patron rides taken each year, and an aggregated count of ride-related injuries parks reported knowing about.
This reporting system does not collect any information useful for analysis of accident patterns or development of prevention strategies. No information is collected that would identify the ride, the park, the age/size of patrons involved, the type of accident, or the injuries sustained. IAAPA’s “honor-system” accounting of guest injuries that have been reported back to the amusement parks is lower than the CPSC’s estimate of the number of amusement park patrons actually treated for ride-related injuries in emergency rooms. Since it is the industry’s trade group that is putting this together, there may be an incentive to minimize the risks.