Social media feeds throughout the US were inundated with a disturbing video on and after July 26, 2017, when users shared content showing a man’s death aboard a carnival ride at the Ohio State Fair. Seven other riders were injured when “The Fireball” ride’s passenger-carrying equipment detached from the main unit, sending passengers hurtling into the air; the victim who died was ejected 50 feet, according to officials.
CBS Baltimore WJZ Channel 13 reports that the incident in Ohio has prompted Maryland authorities to take a closer look at amusement parks and fairs in the state. Specifically, experts are inspecting the “Freak Out” attraction in Ocean City, as the ride is the same design as the one that caused the fatal accident. In Maryland, inspection of such attractions is managed by the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation’s Safety Inspection Unit. Various county fair officials also stated that they perform their own inspections on a daily basis.
Duty of Care for Amusement Park Operators
If you suffer personal injuries due to an incident at an amusement park, premises liability concepts apply. Various parties may be liable when a dangerous condition presents a hazard upon premises such as a building or on land, including the rides, activities, and general environment at a fair. The duty of care generally falls into two categories at this type of entertainment event:
- Rides and Attractions: An operator must ensure that rides and other attractions are safe for a reasonably foreseeable use. There may be no liability and no claim if the victim engaged in some type of unforeseeable use, such as tampering with a safety harness or extending arms outside of a ride.
- Other Areas of Amusement Parks: The duty of care for other areas of event grounds is similar to that of a business owner. The operator must keep the premises free from hidden dangers, either by making repairs or providing patrons with adequate warnings. For instance, it would be necessary to post signs about slippery surfaces, install railings on stairs, and clean up spills as soon as possible.
At the same time, if a hazardous condition is open and obvious such that a reasonable person would recognize the risks, an operator may not be required to warn about dangers.
Breach of the Duty of Care
There are a number of ways that a defendant may breach the duty of care with respect to rides and attractions. Some examples include failing to provide adequate safety restraints or harnesses, falling short on proper maintenance and repairs, and not properly training and managing employees.
Because the duty of care includes inspections to discover defects, an amusement park operator will probably not succeed on a claim that a ride malfunction was an unexpected accident. Rides are inherently dangerous, especially when they malfunction. For this reason, the standard of care is higher and proper inspections are critical.
As with other businesses, an amusement park operator is responsible for the negligent actions of its employees. There may be a breach of the duty of care where staff fails to instruct riders about proper use of attractions, mismanaging crowd control, providing inadequate security, or failing to control animals during a performance.
Products Liability Cases
In some cases, it may be possible for an injured victim to pursue the manufacturer of a ride under the theory of products liability. An amusement park ride or attraction may be defective due to the same issues involved with a defective product, such as if:
- The design of the ride contained a flaw that made it more likely to malfunction. If the “Freak Out” in Ocean City was manufactured in the same way as “The Fireball” in Ohio, and there is a design flaw, both machines are defective and the manufacturer may be liable for damages.
- The ride was improperly manufactured, making a malfunction more likely. Under the concept of manufacturing defect, Maryland’s “Freak Out” attraction may not be affected.
- The manufacturer failed to include proper warnings about the inherent dangers of the ride or proper instructions on how to ensure passenger safety.
Status of the Injured Victim
The presence of the victim at the amusement park may be an issue in a premises liability case. Maryland law will not allow recovery of damages for a victim’s injuries if they occurred because he or she was unlawfully present at the time of the accident. A person who is a guest of the park, in a public place and during normal operating hours can probably recover. A trespasser, whether present after hours or in restricted locations, will likely not be allowed compensation.
As the investigation has continued over the weeks since the amusement park accident at the Ohio State Fair, officials have discovered a potential cause: Excessive corrosion in the interior of the passenger-carrying support beam reduced the strength of the equipment over the years, causing the ride to malfunction. Still, it may not be so easy to establish fault in when a victim suffers injuries on amusement park or fair grounds. Inspections help, but cannot totally prevent accidents from happening.