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Sometimes, Danger Is Real at Amusement Parks

We like amusement park rides like those at Six Flags Great America because they take us to danger’s edge. Even though we are racing at breakneck speeds through twists and turns or suddenly plunging to the ground, we usually feel confident that the danger isn’t real. Thinking we are safe allows us to enjoy the ride.

But what if it turns out that the danger is real? Do accidents happen at amusement parks in Illinois and elsewhere in the country? Who is in charge of making sure these rides are safe?

Oversight of Amusement Park Rides in Illinois

The New York Times recently took a close look at the oversight of “thrill rides,” which have become “faster, taller and more extreme than ever.”

For instance, the “Millennium Force” at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, reaches as high as 310 feet and hits speeds of 93 mph, according to a listing of the top roller coasters in the U.S. by Business Insider.

As the Times reports, the federal government has not regulated “fixed-site rides” such as those at most major theme parks since 1981. Efforts to create federal oversight, such as the National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act of 2011, have gone nowhere in Congress.

As a result, the collection of accident and injury data and enforcement of safety regulations falls to state and local governments.

In Illinois, amusement park rides (including those operated at fairs and carnivals) are regulated by the state’s Department of Labor (IDOL) – specifically its Amusement Ride and Attraction Safety Division. (The Illinois Department of Public Health is in charge of regulating water slides.)

According to the division’s website, no amusement park ride is allowed to operate within Illinois unless it passes inspection, is insured and meets “applicable safety standards.”

The division publishes a list of permitted rides in the state (through 2015) and also keeps track of statistics, including reported injuries. However, the most recent injury statistics that can be found on the IDOL website are from 2011.

Beyond government regulation, amusement park rides in Illinois and elsewhere follow standards set by an American Society for Testing and Materials committee, according to the Virginia-based trade organization, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

Do Accidents Happen on Amusement Park Rides?

According to the IAAPA, more than 315 million people visited the roughly 400 amusement parks in the U.S. during one recent year and took 1.4 billion safe rides. The IAAP estimates there were:

Ferris wheelFerris wheel1,356
injuries on amusement park rides

percent of reported injuries were “serious”

percent of reported injuries were “not serious.”

The IAAPA defines a “serious” injury as one that results in immediate admission and hospitalization in excess of 24 hours for more than observation.

The likelihood of being injured seriously enough on a ride to require overnight hospitalization for treatment is 1 in 24 million, while the chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 750 million, the IAAPA claims.

However, a 2013 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found a significantly higher injury rate. (It’s important to note that this study looked at only child injuries, so its figures do not reflect adult injuries.)

The study examined national rates of pediatric injury involving amusement rides that led to treatment in U.S. emergency departments.

The researchers found that more than 93,000 children under age 18 were treated in emergency rooms for amusement-park-related injuries between 1990 and 2010, or an average of 4,423 injuries each year.

More than 70 percent of those injuries occurred in May through September – equating to more than 20 injuries a day during these months and at least one hospitalization every three days of the summer.

Injuries were most likely to be sustained as the result of a fall (32 percent) or by either hitting a part of a body on a ride or being hit by something while riding (18 percent).

The most common amusement park injuries identified in the study were:

amusement park injuriesamusement park injuries

Meanwhile, the body parts most commonly injured in amusement park accidents were:

amusement park accidentsamusement park accidents

Nearly one-third (33 percent) of injuries occurred on fixed-site rides, while carnival and fair rides accounted for 29 percent of the injuries.

Why Do Amusement Park Ride Accidents Occur?

Over the years, we have regularly reported on amusement park accidents on our blog, including:

  • The death of a woman who fell from a roller coaster while riding with her family at Six Flags in Arlington, Texas, in July 2013.
  • Four people injured among 24 who were left stranded high off the ground after a roller coaster at a Six Flags in southern California struck a tree branch in July 2014.
  • A 64-year-old passenger ejected from a roller coaster who fell almost 20 feet to the ground at Wisconsin Dells amusement park in April 2014.

Often, amusement park injuries can occur because people have pre-existing conditions or because they simply fail to follow rules such as those that require them to stay seated or keep their limbs inside the roller coaster car.

However, amusement park accidents can also occur due to:

  • Inadequate inspection and maintenance of rides
  • Inadequate safety procedures, policies or precautions
  • Failure of park staff to enforce height/weight requirements
  • Failure to properly secure rides
  • Failure to properly train park employees or to hire employees who have the appropriate qualifications
  • Design or manufacturing defects in rides and attractions
  • Poor lighting at the ride and elsewhere on park grounds
  • Inadequate maintenance of amusement park grounds.

Even though there is some risk in getting on an amusement park ride, park owners have the same duty as other businesses to ensure the reasonable safety of their customers. They must follow all regulations for periodic inspection, use, erection and design of all rides and similar amusements they operate.

If you or a loved one has been injured on an amusement park ride in Illinois or elsewhere, you have a right to seek compensation for your medical expense and other losses associated with the accident.

The personal injury and premises liability lawyers of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., can investigate a claim on your behalf. We have the resources and the will to hold corporate amusement park owners and others responsible when they put patrons’ lives in danger.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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