The unamusing truth: The risks of amusement parks

In Iowa’s Adventureland Park, the Jaramillo family was expecting a day of fun. Unfortunately, the water ride they were on flipped and the six passengers on their raft were pinned against the large conveyer belt that the ride ran on.

Four were hospitalized, two were in critical condition, and on Sunday night, the youngest of the clan, 11 year-old Michael Jaramillo, died from his injuries. His older brother David spent his sixteenth birthday in a medically-induced coma where luckily, he has shown some signs of brain function.

This was not the first incident at Adventureland Park, or even on that ride: in 2016, a 68 year-old employee named Steve Booher died four days after falling onto the conveyer belt, which resulted in a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury. In 2018, an employee working on a roller coaster ride was knocked off of a transformer, fell into harm’s way, and was struck by a test riding roller coaster, suffering a broken arm. Both parties sued Adventureland and the amusement park was found liable in both instances.

Amusement park injuries are not as rare as one may think. In 2017, approximately 43,405 people were injured at an amusement park; 19,047 of the injured were between the ages of five and 14.

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Common types of amusement park injuries

  • Head, neck, or back injury
    • These can result from spinning rides or rides that whip the rider around. Rapid speeds can contribute too, adding more force to which the rider is subject.
  • Stroke
    • Trauma to the ligaments in a rider’s neck may cause a stroke. If not caught and treated in time, strokes can be deadly.
  • Traumatic brain injury
    • Detached objects due to a malfunction of the equipment are the more obvious cause of traumatic brain injury in riders, but high speeds can contribute as well. The stress of the ride is damaging to the brain and can result in severe brain injury.
  • Brain aneurysms
    • Again, speed kills: the speed of roller coasters and similar rides can result in aneurysms that may turn fatal if not treated in time.
  • Lacerations, broken bones, or torn ligaments
    • If a rider is struck by a ride, falls out of a ride, or is otherwise hit by a hard, speeding object, they may suffer lacerations, broken bones, or torn ligaments. Lacerations may also occur from sharp objects that are incorrectly installed in or on the ride.
  • Death
    • All of the injuries above run varying risks of becoming fatal, but they are not the only threats. Drowning on water rides, falling from or being thrown from rides, being hit by rides, and more can kill.

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Common Causes of Injury

  • Mechanical failure
    • Mechanical failure occurs when a machine is insufficiently manufactured and inspected. Potential issues may include lap bars or roller coaster cars that detach.
  • Improper operation
    • Roller coasters have a significant manual aspect and if the operator ignores it or is unaware of an issue, they may mistakenly start the ride. Further, if an operator mistakenly or intentionally halts the ride while it is on its track, the abrupt movement may result in injury.
  • Passenger misuse
    • If a passenger fails to follow instructions, they run the risk of severe injury. That is why it’s important to take note of and painstakingly follow all posted rules and regulations.
  • Inherent nature of ride
    • Some rides are simply not safe for all passengers. The high speeds, volatile motions, or other aspects may result in injuries for some parties, and said groups should ensure that they are of the optimal age, height, weight, and health to ride.

Safety Tips

  1. Observe age, height, weight, health, and any other requirements
    • If you, your child, or another companion are not fit to ride, avoid it! The rules are in place for your safety and ignoring them can have fatal consequences.
    • Even if there are no health requirements for a ride, seek the expertise of a medical professional if you’re unsure or concerned about pre-existing medical conditions.
  2. Keep your body inside roller coaster cars
    • Yes, you may be tempted to throw your hands in the air but be conscious of potential risks.
    • If you’re traveling with a child, allow them to ride at your own discretion. If you feel that your child isn’t responsible enough to prioritize their own safety while on a roller coaster, don’t let them ride. Even if they meet the size and age requirements, they may not be ready.
  3. Pay attention: don’t ride if…
    • The equipment looks poorly maintained. Nerves are one thing, but if you feel that a ride looks untrustworthy or unstable, don’t ride it!
    • The operator seems intoxicated or otherwise distracted. You’re putting your safety in another person’s hands and if they do not seem alert and aware of all potential threats, they’re putting you at risk.
  4. Take breaks to avoid getting sick
    • Drink water, avoid eating either too much or too little, and take some time to apply sun protection. Roller coasters are physically demanding, especially when you’re out in the hot sun and/or riding multiple in quick succession. Tune in to your body and recognize when you need to rest.
  5. Keep your eyes forward and head up
    • Head, neck, and back injuries can potentially be avoided by keeping your head up and your eyes forward. Twisting and moving your neck around may exacerbate the stress of the roller coaster and leave you injured.
  6. Do your research and report any issues you notice immediately
    • Always make sure that your family fun is with a park that is reputable and safe. Research the history of the park, if there have been any accidents in the past, and how they occurred. If there are a significant number of accidents or multiple accidents on one ride, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
    • If you notice any issue, report it immediately. Even if you avoid a ride because of an inconspicuous malfunction, someone else might not know to.
  7. Plan your trip for nice weather and adjust according to the weather
    • Rainy weather impacts your visibility and can potentially make rides riskier. You may not notice a weather-related malfunction because of the drizzle. Further, if it’s too hot, you exacerbate the risk of heat-related and ride-related illness.
    • If you’re unable to find a perfectly temperate day, pack supplies: consider sunscreen, umbrellas, hats, water, and whatever else you deem necessary for the trip.
  8. Don’t pursue lost items or better yet, don’t ride with them at all
    • If you lose a hat, a phone, or another one of your belongings, don’t take any risks to get it back. Sneaking into restricted areas or climbing structures is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury. To avoid losing your valuables, leave them with someone in your party who isn’t riding or rent a locker. If it’s gone, it’s likely gone forever.

Almost everyone loves amusement parks, and there’s no mystery as to why. They’re family-friendly and provide a wicked thrill for those adrenaline junkies and risk-takers. However, it’s important to ensure that the risks you take are the ones provided for you and regulated for your safety.

If you have been injured at an amusement park through no fault of your own, the experienced premises liability attorneys at Allen & Allen can help you to figure out next steps. Call today for a free consultation at 866-388-1307.