Amusement Park Negligence and Personal Injury Lawsuits: What You Need to Know

12 May 2016
 Categories: , Articles

Amusement parks are enduringly popular in the United States. Four hundred amusement parks and attractions in the United States host around 375 million visitors annually. Unfortunately, while safety standards are generally high, accidents can happen when amusement park workers are negligent. Find out what this means if you or someone you love suffers an injury as a result of this negligence.

United States regulations

While amusement park attendees want thrills and excitement, operators must make sure that visitors to these attractions are safe. Given the potential for injury and death, it's unsurprising that operators must adhere to safety regulations. In the United States, federal law only governs portable amusement rides. Operators of fixed-site rides must normally obey state laws.

Different rules apply in each state, and different government departments oversee these regulations. Utah, Montana, Nevada, and some other states are unusual. In these states, there are no ride safety laws, and here, riders theoretically take part at their own risk. Nonetheless, even the absence of state regulation does not mean that riders are unable to hold operators liable for negligence.

Amusement park negligence

Amusement park owners are responsible for their employees' actions, just like any other employer in the United States. If a park worker is negligent in some way, you can therefore file a lawsuit against the owner for negligence.

There are many types of negligence. In principle, park employees must take all reasonable actions to make rides safe for visitors. This duty of care extends to every aspect of the rides. Examples of negligence at an amusement park could include

  • poor training for ride operators,
  • operators failing to follow agreed operating procedures,
  • poor/no signage warning visitors about the risks, and
  • ineffective maintenance on park equipment.

The nature of negligence will depend on the ride. Some small, simple rides represent few risks to riders, while larger, white-knuckle rides could potentially lead to life-threatening injuries. Because of this, when somebody in the park suffers an injury, it's important to carefully consider the details in each case.

The issue of assumed responsibility

By law, assumed risk applies when somebody does something knowing that it is potentially dangerous. In some cases, an amusement park will claim a defense of assumed risk, especially in states like Utah or Nevada where there are no regulations. In principle, a court could uphold a defendant's case if the park can show your injury was part of this assumed risk. For example, if you suffer a neck injury because a roller coaster suddenly veers in one direction, a court may agree that this is an assumed risk.

However, assumed risk is often a difficult defense against negligence. In fact, some states do not allow defendants to use this defense. because park visitors must understand the risks that they assume when they visit the park. Due to this, if the park and its workers do not adequately warn patrons about these risks, it's difficult to uphold the assumed risk defense.

In the same neck injury example cited above, you may claim negligence if this incident occurs and there were no signs before you got on the ride to warn you about this risk. In essence, the defendant cannot claim assumed risk here because you didn't have the information you needed to accept the risk of what you were doing.

The proving of negligence

Of course, it isn't always easy to prove negligence in these cases, so you will need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. Your conduct before, during and after an incident can also influence a court's decision, and a judge could decide that you were liable for the accident. For example, a court may say you were partly or wholly liable if

  • you did something against instruction, like if you failed to sit on a ride as directed.
  • you bypass any safety devices, such as if you let go of a safety rail while on a roller coaster.

If the accident occurs due to a defect on a ride, a negligence claim is not always appropriate. In these cases, you may need to consider filing a defective product liability lawsuit. Your attorney can help you understand the difference.

Amusement parks are great fun, but accidents can happen. Talk to a trained personal injury lawyer from a firm like Vaughan & Vaughan for more information and advice.