The majority of people go to theme parks for a day out that they’ll always remember. Unfortunately for some, they may wind up remembering it for rather different reasons than the ones they intended. With fast-moving rides, heavy machinery, various stresses placed upon the body, and potentially dodgy food served on the stands, theme parks can very often lead to all sorts of turmoil for unprepared fun-lovers. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that those who suffer injuries while in a theme park are often quick to turn to personal injury lawyers to seek compensation for their damages. However, the question of theme parks and liabilities is always a tricky one to be settled even at the best of times.
After all, while people may become injured at parks, it’s not always the park’s fault. In some cases, the liabilities may well land with the injured party. Personal injury claims, therefore, rest a great deal in determining where the fault lies and how severely. This very often depends on the case in question, and the events that led up to the injury.
Injury On a Ride
The most obvious place where a personal injury may occur within a theme park is when on one of the rides. All rides involve some degree of mechanical moving parts, even something as simple and straightforward as a carousel, and with these come the opportunity for injury. In cases where a park visitor is injured while on a park’s ride, the case depends a great deal on how the injury was inflicted and whether or not the park adequately protected against it.
Most rides will include lengthy health and safety warnings before and during the queue for it. Those who attend theme parks frequently will be quite familiar with them. They’re the signs and notices that include warnings such as “pregnant mothers and people with heart conditions should not ride”, or “please remain seated at all times, keeping arms and legs within the vehicle”. Provision of these warnings are one way parks can help prevent accidents by providing clear instructions on how to safely ride. However, accidents still happen.
During operation in Universal Studios Florida, guests riding the Simpsons Ride were given a rather unexpected surprise when an unknown mechanism failed and sprayed the car, and them, with vegetable oil. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, and the guests were allowed to shower at the facility and received clean clothes. Such an incident could have resulted in an actual lawsuit; however, the incident occurred due to a failing within the ride’s mechanisms itself and was due in no part to the action or inaction of the guests. It seemed that, in this instance, the guests chose not to press a claim, presumably because they found the reaction by park staff suitable components on its own.
Another incident at Six Flags: Discovery Kingdom involved a woman being thrown off the Starfish attraction when a restraining bar failed. This was due to a pneumatic valve being incorrectly installed, and as a result the rider slipped from the ride and landed on a nearby pavement, suffering injuries to her head and knees. During a later lawsuit, she named both the park and ride’s manufacturer responsible for her injuries.
Injury in the Park Proper
As well the rides, there are also cases where injury can occur within the park itself, typically while walking in between attractions. In these cases, injuries are more to do with environmental hazards scattered on the pathways. Such hazards may include things such as unmarked muddles causing slips, trailing cables and wires, unseen steps, or uneven paving stones. Decorative pieces such as fountains and lakes may also cause injury, or even death.
On August 11th 1977, a boy from Illinois drowned in the moat of Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, for which the family sued the park for $4 million. However, they were found by the jury to be half liable in turn as they had allowed their son to climb the fence around the moat, and thus reduced the suit to $2 million.
Sometimes injury may also occur from nearby rides. Roller coasters and other such attractions frequently have the risk of debris flying off people riding them, such as loose change, shoes or unsecured accessories such as bags or glasses. This may fly off during the ride and hit people watching from the paths beside the tracks. The park should, typically, make steps to ensure such accidents do not happen, such as by installing protective caging along sharp turns or providing lockers for personal items to be stored away before boarding.
Other incidents may also involve food poisoning at the park’s restaurants or food stands. The park is responsible for the food and hygiene served on its premises, and as such is held responsible if ever a case of food poisoning can ever be traced back to one of their eateries. This is typically harder to prove, however, as illnesses seldom occur immediately after eating, and it’s easy for a park to pass off food poisoning as being from some other food source.
Not in My Back Yard (NiMBY)
Finally, people living in and around a theme park can also claim personal injuries if the park’s operations should disturb their home life too much. In most cases, major theme parks are located a sizeable distance away from residential areas, but there are cases where the theme park and local residents exist uneasily side by side. In these instances, the theme park may be under certain restrictions relating to their ride placement as well as noise and light pollution levels. They may also offer concessions to local residents, such as free entry to the park.
The most notable case of theme parks and their neighbours is found in Alton Towers, a British theme park located in Staffordshire. Local planning laws made in agreement with local residents when the park was being built prevents the park from building any ride higher than their tree line, meaning most of their attractions are built underground to make more space. Further, there have been incidents when operations within the park resulted in lawsuits from the residents. On May 3rd 2013, a lawsuit from a local village resulted in a court order against Alton Towers that saw audio from one its rides being cut, as well as limiting fireworks displays to only three a year.
Attornies like David Heil can offer legal assistance for personal injury cases, and will be happy to consult with you about your case, and any question you may have about your rights.