On Sunday, August 10, two dozen roller coaster fans got more than they bargained for at Six Flags America, 30 miles southwest of Baltimore. They had purchased tickets to ride the Joker’s Jinx, a roller coaster that propels riders from zero to 60 mph in a little more than three seconds. But a computerized system stopped the ride while some were almost at its highest point, nearly 80 feet in the air. The Prince George’s County Fire and EMS worked for four hours to rescue the riders, using a tower ladder and rescue bucket. Fortunately, no one was injured in this amusement park incident.
Earlier this summer, on July 7, a tree branch fell on the tracks at Six Flags Magic Mountain north of Los Angeles, derailing the Ninja roller coaster, leaving it dangling and stranding occupants for hours. Four passengers were injured.
Last summer, Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington shut down its Texas Giant roller coaster after a woman was thrown from her seat and plunged to her death.
Do these incidents mean you’re taking an unreasonable risk if you take your family to an amusement park? No, but there is a risk. In 2012, 30,342 people visited emergency rooms due to injuries sustained on various amusement rides, according to the National Safety Council. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says there were 52 total amusement ride deaths between 1990 and 2004.
Another source, the Center for Injury and Policy Research, studied child injuries requiring hospital treatment in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010. They found that a child is hospitalized from a serious injury related to an amusement park, carnival, fair or arcade-type ride once every three days in the summer. Those injuries include fractures, neck injuries and traumatic brain injuries. When you include less serious injuries like bruises and sprains, the number is 20 per day during the summer months.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates mobile amusement park rides, like those found at fairs, but it does not have jurisdiction over fixed rides like those at Six Flags or other amusement parks. In fact, there is no federal oversight of roller coasters or other amusement park rides.
In Maryland, the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation conducts inspections of both temporary and permanent rides and attractions at carnivals, fairs and amusement parks.
Can victims of amusement park injuries sue for damages? Yes, if there was negligence involved. In 2006, 27 people were hospitalized after an accident on the wooden roller coaster at Kings Island in Ohio. One rider, who suffered injuries to his shoulder, incurred medical bills of more than $22,000 and an equal amount in lost wages; he received a confidential settlement in 2011. A woman injured in the same incident took her case to the jury and was awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $76,364 for injuries to her lower back and hip. Expert witnesses said King’s Island knew the ride had problems. “They would fix them in a Band-Aid style and then wait and see what happened,” one said.
The family of the woman who died last year in the Six Flags over Texas accident have sued the amusement park, for negligence, and the manufacturer of the roller coaster cars involved, for defective design or manufacture. That case is still pending.
Summer’s not over yet. There are still plenty of chances for an outing to one of the 400 amusement parks in the U.S. Have fun! Be careful! Follow the rules! If you’re one of the unfortunate ones who sustain an injury there, call me (410) 625-4878.