Amusement Park Injuries: All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets Hurt
Now that the summer is in full swing, amusement park season has begun, and New Jersey has some truly great amusement and water parks. Places like Six Flags Great Adventure, Sahara Sam’s, or Clementon Park are bound to be bustling with children and families, eagerly awaiting their turn to ride a roller coaster or splash around in the water park.
Almost two years ago, on August 7, 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed in a tragic waterpark accident in. As a result, Caleb’s family has received nearly $20 million, which is believed to be the largest settlement ever awarded in Kansas in a wrongful death case involving a minor.
In total, the Schwab family received $19,732,125, paid out by 4 parties to the litigation:
$14 million from SVV 1 and KC Water park. These two companies are associated with Schlitterbahn, the waterpark in which Caleb died.
$5 million from Henry & Sons Construction, the contractor on the water slide.
$500,000 from Zebec of North America, manufacturer of the raft that the boy was riding on.
$232,125 from National Aquatics Safety Co., and its founder, which consulted on the water slide.
The waterslide, named “Verruckt”, was the main attraction at the Schlitterbahn waterpark, and was in the Guinness Book of World Records for its height – 168 feet, 7 inches. Preliminary investigations showed that Caleb died of a fatal neck wound though authorities were not sure how it occurred. Now, it is believed that his raft went airborne and struck the netting system placed above the slide. Two women on the raft with him suffered serious facial injuries. They have also settled with the companies, but their totals are being kept confidential.
The tragedy sparked debate and investigations into often overly-relaxed regulations at amusement parks throughout the country. It was also revealed that the Kansas Department of Labor had not inspected the waterslide since it opened in 2014.
Recently, the Kansas Legislature approved more rigid regulations of rides.
The summer of 2016 was one of the most dangerous ones on record for amusement park injuries. Three young girls fell from a Ferris wheel at a county fair in Greeneville, Tennessee, suffering serious injuries. It was determined that a mechanical error caused the gondola to tip over. In August, a boy was injured after he fell out of a rollercoaster in Pennsylvania, and a young girl suffered horrific injuries when her hair became caught in a ride in Omaha.
New Jersey is no stranger to amusement park injuries. In 2010, Roy Steinberg suffered devastating personal injuries – unfortunately, becoming paraplegic – as a result of his riding the flowboard surfing simulator at Sahara Sam’s in Berlin Township. Although Steinberg signed a waiver, which he admitted he did not read, before riding the Flowrider, he argued in his lawsuit that Sahara Sam’s did not have the proper safety signs posted, and that the ride’s attendant did not instruct him properly on how to ride it
The trial court initially ruled against Steinberg, saying that the signing of a waiver eliminates the right to file a negligence claim, and a three-judge appellate panel later agreed in a split decision with one judge claiming that a gross negligence claim can nonetheless be argued. The Supreme Court agreed with the dissenting judge, ruling that a claim of gross negligence can override the signing of a release from liability waiver, and thus reversed the appellate court’s ruling, remanding the case back to the trial court.
According to Benjamin Goldstein, our Certified Trial Attorney, claims against amusement parks generally require the filing of lawsuits in which we allege that the park was negligent in the manner that their rides were constructed or maintained. Often, the company that designed or manufactured the ride is also targeted in a suit.
As the Jersey shore has become an increasingly popular tourist destination as of late, likewise amusement park injuries are becoming increasingly more common. Online articles state that amusement parks see an average of 4,423 injuries per year, with an average of 20 daily injuries from May through September. In New Jersey, more injuries occur in water parks than any other kind of amusement parks.
New Jersey is one of the few states that regulate consumer amusement park attractions, but there is a major restriction in the law, in addition to the two year statute of limitation in which to file a lawsuit. In New Jersey, Title 5, Chapter 3, Article 6 of the N.J.S.A. lays out the law regarding amusement park-related injuries. Specifically, § 5:3-47, outlines the reporting requirements of injuries, requiring that if someone is injured on an amusement park ride, they are must file a special written report of the accident with the amusement park operator, within the designated injury reporting office within the park, as soon as possible, but in no event longer than 90 days from the time of the incident giving rise to the suit.
New Jersey law also permits the park owner/operator to refuse admission to the park or any of its attractions to any patron or member of the public whose bearing or conduct might endanger him/herself or any other member of the public; whose health or physical condition makes use of the amusement unsafe for him or her; or, anyone who cannot meet a companion or height restriction.
For example, normal operation of an attraction could be hazardous to:
Those who are pregnant
Those with heart conditions
Those with neck or back problems
Those subject to motion sickness, or
Those with other health problems that may make them more vulnerable to injury.
Additionally, New Jersey law permits park owner/operators to prevent a rider who is perceptibly or apparently under the influence or drugs or alcohol from riding on an amusement.
In all, if you plan on going to an amusement park this summer, be it to ride the roller coasters or to splash around in the water park, please be careful and remember the law in the event something does go wrong. If you or a loved one have been injured in an amusement park accident, contact the Law Offices of Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP at (856) 753-5131 today for a free consultation!