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Fun Parks: Regulatory Loophole and Little Oversight
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Last year there were 28,400 injuries at the fun parks in the United States.  But, the parks say that there is only a one in 17 million chance that you will be injured at an amusement park. "At your own risk" is the mantra of fun parks from water-slide parks to Disney.  And they are pretty much protected from liability because of assumption of risk.  Also, fixed fun parks are immune from oversight and supervision. 

 

While mobile parks with rides, the types used at state fairs and carnivals are subject to federal regulation.  However, proposed federal regulation and oversight of fixed-site parks has been defeated each time it is proposed in Congress.  The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is a powerful lobbying group and has been able to defeat such legislation calling federal oversight is not necessary because "it seeks to address a problem that does not exist."  Danny Hakim, "Injury Reveals Little Oversight For Fun Parks,"  New York Times, August 18, 2018, p. B...

 

With those defeats, which began in 1999, the oversight of fixed fun parks is left to the states.  Some states have no regulation (Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah).  Some states have licensing and inspections.  Some states just have initial registration.  Even in those states that have complete regulatory schemes, the states do not have the resources or have not assigned the resources necessary to bring the parks into safety compliance standards.  

 

Customers do assume the risk of these types of rides because there are high speeds, high altitudes, and high risk on many of the rides and features.  However, customers do not assume the risks of poor maintenance, lack of knowledgeable employees, and failure of safety systems and inadequate procedures when there is an injury.

 

The customers at the fun parks are customers, and so are classified as invitees.  Property owners owe invitees the highest level of care:  ti fix any safety issues they are aware of, to inspect for any developing issues, and to warn them of any dangers.  For example, Rachel Gibbs, a young mother, had her wind pipe crushed when a scarf she was wearing got caught in the spokes of one of the wheels on her GoKart.  Mrs. Gibbs is in a vegetative state in a care center.  The employee boarding the customers in the cars did not warn Mrs. Gibbs about the scarf and its risks. Her family settled with the fun park for her injuries. Rachel Gibbs GoKart.jpg

 

 

 

A review of state inspections of the park revealed that employees and signs at the park failed to warn customers about the risks of loose clothing.  In this case, the fun park even had a picture of a woman riding in a GoKart with a scarf and her long hair flowing straight back behind her as a promotion for the ride. In addition, a bystander who performed CPR on the woman indicated that park employees could not find a defibrillator and were not prepared to handle an emergency. 

 

Customers do not assume the risk of the failure to warn or the risk of inadequate emergency response, so the "at your own risk" mantra does not cover all actions or lack of actions at the parks.  The tragedy of cases such as this one is often the motivation for increased inspections and/or regulation.