While standing in line at at theme park in anticipation of enjoying a ride you have seen advertised on television you read a warning. It tells you not to ride if you are pregnant or if you have a back or neck injury. No problem there and so you proceed to the ride. While on the ride something about the ride causes you to smash a vertebrae, rupture a disc, or sustain a head injury. Should the parks be held responsible for these injuries where the park "guest' did nothing wrong, obeyed all warnings and there was no foreseeable likelihood of such an injury being sustained from the advertisements about the ride? What if the theme park operator knew others were hurt before on the ride but they deliberately make no mention of it in the warning? This is the true state of facts for many theme park rides.
Sadly, in Florida the big theme parks are legally allowed to keep most ride related injuries forever secret even when the injuries are sustained in the normal operation of the ride and even when the warning mentions nothing of the known prior injury. The parks intentionally withhold from the public information about ride injuries and instead go to great lengths to keep the data secret. Look up Florida Fifth District Court opinions on the subject. You will see the theme parks keep injury data secret and they are not obligated to report injuries except in very limited circumstances (in fact, the local fair is held to a higher injury reporting standard than the big 3 parks). To prove the point out of the multitude of injuries in the lawsuits cited in an Orlando Sentinel article today : "only nine of the 101 ride-related lawsuits found in the Sentinel's review of 2004-08 court cases were reported to the state as accidents when they occurred." The parks keep secret most of the injuries sustained in amusement park ride related injuries.
The theme park industry has cadres of lawyers who are hired to keep the information on ride injuries away from the public. Why would they do that if the rides are as safe as they claim. I have represented children with horrible permanent head injuries and facial scarring, others with broken bones and ruptured discs requiring surgery. All sustained from using the ride as instructed. Tell me where the warning explains those risks. Further on some of the rides the same injuries had been caused to others already on the same ride yet the warning makes no mention of the known danger.
Even after it is proved that the injury was caused by the ride, many times the parks do not do the right thing. Most people just want their medical bills paid but they get stonewalled by the parks. Often these are tourists from out of the country who do not have health insurance for U.S injuries. Other times U.S. health insurance does not cover the injury and so when the parks refuse to pay for even the medical bills indisputably caused by the ride "guests" must then come to a lawyer out of desperation.
The big parks make billions from advertising inviting guests to ride their rides. In turn, when an invited guest heeds all warnings, uses a ride in the manner intended, and yet sustains serious injury on a ride shouldnt the park pay for the damage caused by the ride? In my mind, that is simply the right thing to do.
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First of all I'm highly skeptical regarding your comment on injuries "indisputably caused by the ride." What is your definition of injuries caused by a ride? Are you saying that there are a good number of cases that a customer had no prior health issues, was not predisposed either knowingly or unknowingly to injury from the slightest unusual movement, and would not have been injured just the same if he or she would have been in an automobile that had to stop suddenly for example?If your definition includes a case as described in the above example I would take issue with you. Orlando sees an average of 25 million visitors a year. What makes these people so special that they happen to be the ones to get injured while the other 24,999,990 leave Central Florida unscathed? In an example of a spinal or neck injury on a roller coaster, how is it that the other 39 passengers on the same train during the same ride cycle never suffered a scratch in most cases?No, I think in the majority of these cases these "opportunists" are looking to get a hand out because they were dealt a bad hand. Don't get me wrong, I have sympathy for them. I just recently underwent surgery for severe multiple disk herniation. The medical bills are staggering. But I'm not looking to blame anyone. I was given an unlucky hand and I need to deal with it as best I can.To blame a theme park for their injuries is ludicrous unless there was a clear mechanical malfunction and that technical failure led to a vehicle derailing or a lap bar releasing for example. The regulatory hoops that a ride manufacturer and park owner need to jump through to get a ride open is nothing short of overkill. Between OSHSA, Local and Federal and State agencies, ADA, ad infinitum, what else do you expect them to do? Maintenance as well as operations check each attraction on a daily basis, while local government inspectors check up on them periodically. Again, how can you claim that park owners are responsible for these unfortunate injuries? What more can they do short of checking each nut and bolt before each ride vehicle is dispatched. But as you know the vast majority of these cases has nothing to do with the mechanical condition of the rides. That is because the maintenance and design is so thorough.Either you are saying it's the original designers fault that they have not taken into account each of the potential 4+ billion riders' situations, or you are saying it's the operators fault for allowing them to ride. We live in a dangerous world. No amount of legislation or litigation is going to protect everyone from every potential danger. So is it really the park owner who is to blame in these cases or should we just chalk it up to bad genetics and timing? If 5% or maybe even less of theme park visitors were injured I'd say maybe going to a theme park is a risk. But the number of legitimate cases is so low you have more of a chance in getting injured walking down the street or driving in a car than getting hurt at a theme park.
Your skepticism regarding the relationship between the ride and injuries is baseless. Lets see, children with their head slashed open from the top of the forehead through to the face, or or x-rays that show acute vertebral fractures are some of the injuries from the rides for which there is no question the ride caused the injury. You do not get hurt like that from a sudden stop in a car to use your example. To call these folks opportunists without any facts is really pretty scary. I don't think a nine year old girl or her parents are going to slash her face and get permanent facial scars for the thrill of suing a theme park. Nor does someone crush a vertebrae for the joy of making a claim.The fact is people are getting hurt on rides despite that they follow the rules and have no medical condition addressed by the warnings. Further, theme parks know that there are these injuries not addressed by the warnings but still do not modify the warnings. You speculate about the low number of injuries but you have no data to support it. The data is hidden. That is really the point, the theme parks do not have to report most injuries and they hide the number and type of ride injuries that they know about. If you are correct in your assumptions then you should favor my point that all accident and injury data about rides should be made public. After all if your assumptions are true there would be no reason for the theme parks to not publicize the ride injury data. why keep something secret for no reason?My only point is that if someone is hurt on a ride in a manner not covered by the warning then the park should be reponsible for the injuries caused by the ride. If the ride did not cause the injury or if the warning was not followed then I agree that is tough luck. But a ride is not a high riks activity like skiing or surfing. Rides are advertised as safe and are marketed to children. The parks can't have it both ways and sell tickets by portraying the rides as safe and then blame the rider for assuming the risk of the ride when they do not reveal the risks. Again I remind you noone in any of the lawsuits is seeking punitive damages from the parks. They want bills, lost earnings and other compensatory damages only. It really comes down to honor. An honorable person makes amends for damages they cause. The parks ought to do the honorable thing.
I have no problem, as implied in my post, with a victim going after a park owner if an injury was clearly due to operator error or mechanical failure from negligence. I assume the examples you listed fall into one of those categories. If they don't then exactly how does one child's forehead get slashed open by riding a ride that millions of others do safely every year? Either there was a mechanical failure, operator error or the child did not follow the safety rules. If it was the latter case I'm sure you would agree that the family does not deserve compensation. If it was due to either of the first two reasons then I take no issue with going after the owner.My main point is that the majority of these cases are frivolous. I have worked in the theme park industry most of my life, from operations management to ride and show design and development. I can tell you that there are people regularly that try to set up accidents in an attempt to defraud the parks. More often, there are people that do stupid things and hurt themselves. You can't make anything 100 percent idiot proof.You claim that people are getting hurt on rides despite following the rules and have no medical condition addressed by the warnings. Can you give some specific examples of how they could be hurt if they don't fall into either of the categories I've listed above? What specifically happened on the ride that caused their injury?You also state that I don't have the data to support my low numbers but I would throw that back at you. You don't have the numbers either. I can tell you from my many years of experience that I have spent at least the equivalent of 10 years inside a park (if not more)and have rarely seen, either during or after the fact, an accident that was not the fault of the customer. I'm not saying they don't happen but I would suspect they happen far less than you would like to admit.The warnings can't plausibly cover every possible health condition unless they attached a series of medical books to each sign. At what point do we stop expecting "nanny" government to protect our every step and start living by common sense?I don't agree that the parks should be forced to publicize their accident statistics any more than any other industry. Even if they were required, there would have to be guidelines in place as to which accidents they would be required to report. As I've said before, most are not the owners' fault from what I've seen.
First of all the injuries are happening on the rides whether you care to acknowledge it or not. Your doubt is, in itself, telling evidence of your bias because even the particular parks are not contesting that the injury was sustained on the ride in many of the cases I have litigated (where, for example, the child entered the ride with an intact scalp and came off with the child's head slashed open by striking the ride vehicle, or where the vertebrae was fine before the ride and fractured coming out by ejection into the ride vehicle). Second you keep concluding that even if there are injuries on the ride they are so few it does not matter. At the same time you know that the ride injury data is hidden from the public. Therefore you have no clue how many people are hurt on the rides. Only the parks know. Pretty convenient to be able to attack the injured rider for being such an exception while at the same time hiding the very data that would show they are not such an isolated case. Just because you worked in a park hardly qualifies you to know about every injury on every ride in every park. In fact if you know so much why don't the parks just call you (or anyone else for that matter) in to testify as an expert witness on the absence of prior ride injuries? Instead they just hide the data.Third, again with no data to support it, you conclude that the rides could not hurt someone unless there was operator error. In fact, people are getting hurt (again without dispute) on rides in situations where certain theme parks are alleging that there was no operator error ie.. that the injury occurred despite that the ride worked exactly as intended. Further, the injuries are of a nature not at all addressed by the warning and they are injuries that have been suffered by others on the ride in the same situation (normal ride operation). Finally these are not, many times, obscure injuries that require a medical textbook to warn about. How about a warning that the ride could cause permanent facial scarring, head injury and fractures even when the ride is functioning in a normal manner. Since this is true why not warn about it? I contend in such situations the parks should compensate those guests who are hurt in the normal operation of the ride for injuries not encompassed by the warnings. Why is that not the right thing to do?
Where do the tort-reform trolls even come from?? Good responses to the confused commenter.Meanwhile, this ruined the rides for me. Yeah, no more theme parks.
Once again, you refuse to address my question directly regarding how these people are getting hurt when there is no malfunction, no questionable action on the part of the victim and no operator error. Can you give me an example of how someone can have their head slashed open without one of those situations in place? Saying they struck the ride vehicle or they were "ejected" says nothing. What does that mean exactly? What caused their head to be slashed?You also say that in these unfortunate circumstances the ride operated as intended. Are you suggesting that the ride manufacturer designed the ride system to slash one passenger's head open but allow for millions of other riders to enjoy the attraction safely? I know there is some sarcasm in that question but it is a bit frustrating when you ask a question several times and you keep getting the runaround. Yes, I am biased. I own a theme park design company and am intimately aware of the already strict safety regulations we and our clients must abide by. If you support more regulation than this affects me personally. If you are saying we design our rides without concern for safety please let me know what more we can do beyond what is already done. So far all I've gotten is extremely vague scenarios from your responses. Who is at fault in these strange occurrences? I have never stated that the only way someone could get hurt would be due to operator error. While working in management at the parks I saw guests do stupid things every day. In one of thousands of examples, a gentleman exited a ride vehicle and proceeded to stick his hand in the track area. When confronted by the unload operator the guest told him he could do whatever he wanted since he was a paying customer. The customer walked away, then he ran back toward the track. the operator hurried back toward the console to Estop the ride but was too late. Before a second operator could reach the guest to pull him away from the track a conveyor motor started to advance the oncoming vehicle and the guest's hand was mangled. I was not at that location at the time but I did view the surveillance tapes. The case never went to court but the company settled with the guy. How sad that people like that are partially responsible for the high ticket prices at the parks. How sad that the park owners have to maintain an expensive legal team to fight stupidity like that. Why did the company have to settle? Why didn't they go to court? They were afraid that the argument could be made that the ride should have been shut down earlier. What ever happened to personal responsibility? So you'll excuse me for being a bit mad and frustrated when we have to jump through hoops that affects our bottom line due to regulations put in place by greedy attorneys and politicians designed to protect people like that. It not only affects our bottom line but it also affects our product. The majority of our end users are good and honest people. We'd love to give them more spectacular product. Unfortunately we are quite limited because of the few idiots that would take advantage of it. I have no problem learning from our mistakes and correcting them in subsequent projects and in rehabs. But when the majority of these accidents are caused by sheer stupidity, or just bad luck on the part of the unfortunate rider, I can't agree with most of your conclusions. For clarity I will ask the main question again. If an accident was not caused by operator error, mechanical malfunction, preexisting condition of the victim or customer stupidity, what are these strange accidents being caused by? If you cannot answer that directly how can we have an intelligent debate?To James Cool - you have got to be kidding. You will stop visiting the theme parks because you are afraid you'll get hurt on a ride due to what Mr. Normand has said? You better stop driving a car or flying on a plane because there is a much better chance of being injured in those scenarios than by riding on a controlled attraction that doesn't rely on other drivers or air traffic controllers and pilots for safety.
Mr. Bankston:As I said before, in apparently normal operation of the ride, where the Corporation denies any operator error or malfunction, these injures did happen. Why the certain rides sometimes cause these injuries for an unlucky group of riders and do not hurt others is something only the Corporations could explain and they do not do so. Again, without the ride injury data that they keep secret we can't really analyze a pattern or trend to help explain exactly how it happened. So to answer your question as to how the injuries occur without operator error, either there was operator error or ride malfunction that the parks do not know about themselves or that they are concealing or there is something about the design of the ride that allows conditions to change on the ride causing the riders to get hurt. The Corporations may know why this is happening but because of the almost total lack of regulation of the big theme parks in Florida and the ability to conceal the ride injury data from the public, the true reasons will remain in the dark for the rest of us. It seems you do not believe that the ride caused the injuries or state that all of the riders were fools and hurt themselves. In the cases I handled it was clear that the rider was hurt on the ride (for example, entered with an intact face, left the ride with face slashed open) and the head contact with the ride was shown on the ride video. Nor was there any proof of any rider negligence shown by any witness or that was seen on any ride video. No one contends that the injuries were intentional. My point again is that for those park guests that are being hurt on a ride and the park claims the ride worked as designed then the park should be responsible for the injuries caused by the ride for which there was no warning about that injury. If the rides are safe then why not allow for public access to information about the injuries on the ride? Why not allow for investigation and inspection of the rides post injury like we do for all airline crashes? Like theme parks rides, why do some small number of planes crash? Does the fact that just a small percentage crash mean that we should not investigate the cause or that it was the airline passengers fault? Our airways are safe because all airline injuries are publicly investigated and then the cause is determined and the problem is fixed. This does not happen with ride injuries and therefore the causes of the injuries are kept secret. It is pretty easy to conceal all information about a ride injury and then blame the rider. Let's get some sunshine into the cause and I may have an answer for you as to why these injuries happen. If the answer is that the riders are at fault as you contend then why keep the information secret? I do not doubt that there are some folks who act stupid and get hurt and, I agree, for them there should be no compensation. They got what they deserve. But for the others who are hurt in allegedly normal ride operation either give us the facts so we can prove why it happened or do the right thing and compensate them for the damages caused by the ride.
I know from experience that thorough investigations are always initiated after accidents such as you describe. If the results don't yield conclusive findings then nobody should be at fault. How can we make a company liable if there is no evidence that they were? We can't say that just because the victim was on the company's ride at the time the accident occurred that the company is liable without some evidence that they could have prevented the accident.Sometimes, bad things happen. What was that incident with Fabio? I think a bird flew into his face while he was riding a roller coaster. Who is at fault there? Is the park at fault for not warning riders of potential bird contact?If a bird flew on top of an HVAC unit and began to chew at the rigging causing it to fall and hit someone, if it was determined that the rigging had not been properly maintained or had not been installed properly, then the company would be at fault. If all safety regulations were followed and up to date however, then it was a freak accident and the park should not be liable. I know in California, Orange County is always on the scene after an accident like the ones you describe. If you are saying Florida does not abide by the same protocol than I might suggest some reasons for this. I did work at the theme parks in Florida and remember most accidents did end up with local government cooperation during investigations. Maybe you are saying this doesn't happen anymore, or doesn't happen every time? I can tell you from my standpoint, whenever we install a ride in Florida we are placed under the most stringent regulations from Reedy Creek. Every weld, bolt and material is approved, inspected and scrutinized beyond all reasonable expectation. Many times these inspections are at our cost and are conducted at the whim of the inspector, not based on clear guidelines that a human being could follow. This creates unnecessary cost and delays that don't prevent accidents but rather, secure that inspector's job.What I'm getting at is that perhaps these parks will resist further government involvement because historically they tend to make things inefficient and more costly. Perhaps if we weren't so busy trying to please these inspectors and trying to meet every code including OSHA, ADA, electrical, building, fire etc. we could spend more time and money on the actual product, including safety issues.I'm not saying i don't agree with regulation. What I am saying is that what we have now is too much as it is and we could stand to make the regulations a bit more specific and less lengthy. adding more government is not the answer to these freak accidents.Believe me the parks are extremely safety conscience. They are not at all interested in their insurance going up and bad press. They are not hiding these statistics to be sneaky. But knowing attorneys, the press and the general intellectual laziness of the public, releasing the information would only harm the big companies behind the parks, even if they have an outstanding safety record, because most would not take the time to sort through the facts. What was actually a freak accident that can't be explained versus what the company could have prevented would not be accurately reported.What I'm saying is that there is no conspiracy as you might be suggesting. They are not hiding anything. I believe in many of these cases they simply don't know what happened. If you can't prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the company was at fault they shouldn't be liable.
The video above titled Florida kills is part one of a 5 part series about the dangers that exist in parks in santa rosa county, florida in a town called Gulf Breeze.
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