Despite the height requirements, restraints, and other safety features in amusement parks, they continue to be a major source of injuries in the U.S. Nearly 300 million people visit U.S. amusement parks every year—all of whom depend on functioning safety equipment and attentive park staff to keep themselves and their children safe.
The Wall Street Journal estimates that 23,785 amusement park-goers were injured in 2011, and unfortunately, rapidly improving technology has failed to improve the safety record of U.S. amusement parks; in 2013, The Wall Street Journal estimates 27,054 people were injured.
The Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Act governs amusement park ride safety in the state of New Jersey. Under this law, manufacturers are required to have their ride type certified prior to its sale for operation at a traveling show or fixed park; this certification requires that the ride is inspected annually and the owner has proper insurance for the duration of the operation of the ride. The New Jersey Bureau of Code Services enforces the act, using engineering staff to review new and current rides and licensed field inspectors to conduct annual inspections.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the five categories of amusement park injuries are:
- Mechanical failures, which include missing safety pines, broken welds or structural components, exposed electrical wires, broken drive chains, malfunctioning safety restraints, failure to shut off, improper detachment of cars, and improper detachment of structural components
- Operator behaviors, which include abruptly stopping the ride, improperly assembling or maintaining the ride, and defeating safety equipment such as brakes or automatic overheat cutoff switches
- Consumer behaviors, which include intentionally rocking cars, standing up, defeating safety restraints, sitting improperly, or holding a child above the safety restraint
- Other hazards, which include injuries that happened while the ride was functioning normally, such as eye hemorrhages on a ride that spins extremely rapidly, or loss of consciousness, headache, or dizziness on a ride that induces abrupt changes in speed and direction
- A combination of hazards, such as when a ride operator abruptly stops a ride after hearing an unusual sound due to a bent rail
Depending on the circumstances of the injury, different parties can be found liable. Amusement parks are subject to premises liability, meaning the operator(s) of the park is liable when the condition or use of the premises results in an injury. This includes the rides, grounds, activities, and general conditions of the amusement park.
In terms of ride safety, the operator of the park is responsible for making each ride safe for reasonable, foreseeable use. This includes providing adequate restraints, regular maintenance, inspections, employee supervision, and displaying safety instructions for potential riders. If a park operator or manager fails to keep the ride conditions safe for riders, they could be held liable for the injuries that result.
Even if the injury occurred on a ride within park limits, the park operator is not necessarily liable. If the injury is the result of a faulty design or defectively manufactured ride, you could have grounds for a product liability suit. Under product liability law, the plaintiff could sue the manufacturer for injuries sustained as a result of unsafe design, faulty restraints, defective manufacturing, or other product defects.