The State of Florida requires that the major theme parks in the State prepare and file “occurrence reports”. The reports are filed with the Florida Bureau of Fair Ride Inspection. The parks are required to prepare the reports quarterly. This is a actually a sweetheart deal for the big three – Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal. This deal applies only to the Big Three theme parks but it includes related parks that they own like Wet ‘n Wild and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The Big Three are supposed to provide reports on serious injuries and deaths resulting from or while using or riding their attractions. Believe it or not these are not exhaustive detailed reports and, get this, the theme parks themselves decide on their own what is a serious injury, but generally consider an incident reportable if it involves an overnight hospital stay the day of the incident.
In essence it allows these corporations to make their own safety reporting programs free from any input or oversight from the state. Lets take some real world examples. A three year old child slices her entire forehead open on a ride, the same ride that has done this same thing to other children. Not reportable because the child was not kept overnight in the hospital; she was discharged before an overnight stay. Another example, fractured vertebrae and disc herniations from a ride where many others have reported the same or similar injury from the same ride in the same place in the ride and in the same manner. Here although surgery and overnight hospitalization was required, the incidents are not required to be reported because the surgery and hospitalization did not occur immediately on the date of the incident. Finally, a stroke resulting from a brain injury on the ride. Since these injuries may take days to be discovered the ride connected with the stroke is not reported even when the information about the alleged connection between the ride and the stroke is provided to the theme park.
Now we need to ask ourselves, are we letting the foxes guard the hen house? What kind of reporting system lets these Big Three large corporations avoid reporting injuries that, if they happened at the County Fair, would have to be reported. Further shouldn’t we consumers be able to look up a ride history of occurrence reports of injuries and trust that the report, as part of the records of the State of Florida, has meaningful information on all injuries reported on rides? Shouldn’t oversight of the Big Three theme parks be at least as much as the oversight of a travelling circus?
For now, if you want to know the safety of a ride, the most accurate source of information is the Orange County Florida Courthouse where most lawsuits against the Big Three are filed. There you will find certain rides with many, many lawsuits arising from the same mechanism of injury and with similar resulting injury patterns. Do we really need to have to go to Court to investigate the safety of a ride that our children want to ride and that the Big Three market as completely safe when they know they are not? For now if you want to look at the record of injuries on the various attractions you can obtain the information free of charge from the State of Florida Bureau of Fair Ride Inspection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Just remember, there are many, many injuries known to the parks that they intentionally do not report through the loopholes disclosed above.