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No Laughing Matter: Amusement Parks and Injuries

Amusement parks, carnivals, and other venues have long been a popular source of entertainment for children in America and around the world. In the halcyon days of our youth, it often seemed as though those amusement parks were idyllic oases of pure joy providing the perfect escape from a world filled with troubles. Such are the passing fancies of youth! In reality, of course, those rides were always risky, and injuries occurred far more frequently than most people knew. Recent decades, however, have seen a greater focus on issues related to safety. As a result, we now have a better understanding of the true risks involved in amusement rides – and those risks are no laughing matter.

Joy and Danger

Amusement parks continue to provide that same level of excitement and controlled danger that children and adults have always craved. From roller coasters to Ferris wheels and mind-dizzying rides that sometimes defy easy explanation, the opportunities for seemingly death-defying thrills are ever-present in these venues. Many riders and their parents often assume that these parks are as controlled and safe environment that they appear to be. According to safety statistics, however, that perception may not always be the reality.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), there are in excess of 400 various amusement parks and similar attractions scattered across the United States. In a survey conducted by IAAPA, the organization found that fully 25% of surveyed Americans reported that they had been to an amusement park within the last calendar year – and 43% said that they were planning on visiting one within the next twelve months. And since the typical guest demographic for these visitors is made up of families with minor children, it is only natural that many of those injured would be people under the age of eighteen.

According to data analyzed by CNN, there were roughly 45,000 total injuries resulting from the use of the nation’s various water slides and amusement attractions. Of those, two-thirds were injuries suffered by minors – somewhere around 30,000. While that seems like an extremely high rate of accident and injury for the nation’s children, perspective can be helpful in assessing the overall situation. After all, throughout North America, some 375 million people visit these parks and attractions each year.

In one 2013 study, researchers who examined the types of injuries suffered by these children found that they tended to be focused on soft tissue damage involving tendons and muscles. There were also a variety of different injuries to victims’ faces and extremities, and the normal head and neck injuries often seen in accidents involving moving forms of transportation. Thankfully, there were relatively few serious injuries and deaths. Nevertheless, it is clear that safety concerns are something that need even greater attention – though that may be easier said than done.

Safety Standards

Part of the problem with safety may be due to the absence of uniform standards brought about by a lack of organized federal oversight of amusement parks. Prior to the 1980s, the federal government had direct oversight of so-called fixed-site amusement parks. Since the Eighties, however, that oversight authority has been removed and the regulation of those parks has been left to local governments and the states. That has made it more difficult to even assess how many injuries are occurring, much less develop a cohesive strategy to improve safety.

In the State of Texas, for example, amusement parks are regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance, which requires that all owners of amusement parks provide certified copies of insurance documents that ensure that the park is in compliance with Texas law, an up-to-date inspection certificate, schedules of operations – provided every six months, and any due filing fees. There are also quarterly reports that must be filed with the Department, documenting injuries and actions taken by the government in response. Any necessary repairs made as a result of inspections must also be included in this report. The authority provided to TDI comes from Texas statutes and administrative codes.

In Texas, reportable injuries include those that result in treatment by medical professionals or any event that causes death. Minor first aid for cuts, bruises, or simple burns do not need to be reported, regardless of whether that treatment is provided by medical or other professional personnel. That’s important to remember because that suggests that there are far more injuries occurring in these parks than the reported statistics suggest. An investigation can be difficult in any event since Texas law provides no authority for the government to investigate even serious amusement park accidents.

Protecting Your Child

Experts do offer a variety of suggestions for parents who want to keep their children safe on these rides:

  • Height and weight guidelines for amusement park rides are there for a reason. Make sure that you child understands and respects those rules.
  • Teach your children to follow guidelines that require keeping extremities within the ride environment during the ride. This can help them to avoid many common injuries.
  • Teach them to utilize all safety features – safety belts and bars are there to protect them.
  • Listen to your gut. If you suspect that a ride is unsafe, move your children on to a different attraction.
  • Always supervise small children and make sure that you or another adult are with them on any risky ride. That is the best way to monitor their behavior and adherence to safety protocols.

Despite your best efforts, however, accidents do happen. Sometimes it is the result of faulty equipment or the ride operators’ poor decisions. Other times, accidents are caused by a failure to follow posted rules and instructions from park personnel. If your child has been injured in an amusement park accident and you have questions about your legal options and potential for recovering damages to get your family’s lives in order again, be sure to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to get the guidance and assistance you need.