Potential for Injuries at Alabama Theme Parks Not Amusing
Summer is here and soon school will be letting out. Every Alabama family knows with summer vacation comes that annual trek to the amusement park. Whether it’s a facility in Huntsville or Bessemer, Auburn or Dothan, for most folks the thought of broken bones, closed-head injuries or even accidental death are hardly things that come readily to mind while strolling down those colorful and noisy midways.
As a Birmingham personal injury attorney, I enjoy some controlled excitement from time to time, but a recent article got me thinking about theme park safety. Amid the smell of cotton candy and sounds of children having a great time, there could be danger lurking. Exercise caution the next time you go.
Some people worry all the time about being injured on roller coasters, but most don’t give it a second thought. But beneath their glossy, candy-colored exteriors, rides may be shoddily maintained, which can easily turn a roller coaster ride deadly. And although amusement park owners point to an impressive-sounding 0.00057-percent industry accident rate, experts say that number is misleading because the actual accident reporting is left to the parks themselves. Underreporting may be the norm since the more they report, the more fines they incur and the more trouble they get into.
The most chilling news is that not all amusement parks are inspected equally. Some states, Alabama among them, do not regulate rides at all. Others such as Mississippi and Washington, D.C., regulate traveling carnivals but not permanent ones. Among the safest states are Florida and Pennsylvania, both of which employ full-time inspectors who do nothing but evaluate amusement rides for safety.
Unfortunately, better legislative attention only comes following a tragedy. In California, legislation to regulate theme parks was introduced after a 1997 disaster at Waterworld USA, where a waterslide collapsed and killed one high school student while injuring 32 others after they attempted to climb on together. As a result, California now has permanent theme park regulations.
Drowning is not the only threat at water parks. A 22-year-old broke his neck after going down head first on a waterslide at a New Jersey park. The six-foot-two, 225-pound man either hit the bottom of the pool with his head or simply the force of hitting the water snapped his neck back. Regardless, he is now a quadriplegic -- the park settled his personal injury suit for $4 million.
According to experts, waterslides can turn riders into human projectiles hurtling at speed up to 25 miles per hour and requiring levels of physical competence that are simply unnecessary for riding even the scariest roller coaster. While the physical challenge is clearly part of the fun, it also increases the level of risk. The danger lies many times in the illusion that a water ride is safe, and because parks sell their rides as amusements that are entertaining and fun.
10 Things Theme Parks Won't Tell You, SmartMoney.com, May 29, 2009