Theme parks and amusement parks are similar in that they are places where people go to enjoy various attractions, including roller coasters and other thrilling rides. However, theme parks tend to be larger and depend on “theming” as part of the entertainment for park guests. They often use shows, characters, animals, and other features, such as popular movies, in conjunction with themes. Legoland and SeaWorld are examples of theme parks.
In contrast, amusement parks often feature only rides, especially rides of the more extreme type that travel at high rates of speed and involve great heights. Both theme parks and amusement parks present various risks of injuries and accidents.
For theme parks, the types of accidents that have been known to take place are as follows:
- Slip and fall accidents;
- Injuries from dangerous animals and animal attacks;
- Injuries from roller coaster ride accidents;
- Injuries resulting from interactions with park employees or themed characters;
- Accidents involving shows or other entertainment, such as those involving explosives, vehicles, or other special effects;
- Injuries caused by the risky behavior of other park guests.
What Kinds of Injuries Have People Suffered in Theme Park Accidents?
Theme parks are generally not as dangerous as itinerant carnivals for which workers assemble and disassemble the rides many times a season, creating more risk of a problem. But theme park accidents can cause problems as well.
Some of the injuries people have suffered at a theme park include:
- Neck strains or sprains;
- Stroke from trauma to the neck;
- Traumatic brain injury;
- Broken bones;
- Death from falls from heights;
Of course, many kinds of accidents are possible. Reportedly in 2015, while riding on the Ride of Fear at a theme park in Texas, a girl heard a loud pop, and a piece of metal fell onto her head. Fortunately, the operator stopped the ride, and all riders exited. Initially, the girl refused medical treatment but then developed dizziness and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed at a hospital with a concussion from the hit to her head. A metal piece falling off the ride indicated that it had not been properly maintained.
Theme park accidents do not happen frequently, but they do happen, often with tragic results. In Orlando, Florida, a teenager died when equipment that was part of the safety mechanism for the FreeFall ride at ICON Park malfunctioned in 2022. The ride has since been closed permanently by authorities who investigated the accident. Legoland has parks worldwide, and 34 people were injured when two roller coasters collided at a Legoland in Germany.
Who Can Be Liable for a Theme Park Accident?
In some cases, the negligent actions of a theme park employee cause injuries to a park guest. In such cases, proving that the employee disregarded the duty of care owed to a park patron is necessary. Then, the injured park patron must prove that the breach of duty was the direct cause of their injuries. The theme park itself may well be liable for the negligence of an employee. This would depend on the degree to which the theme park managers controlled the actions of their employees.
In addition to a park employee, others may be liable, notably the theme park owners.
Theme park owners and operators may be held liable for injuries to their visitors if the elements of negligence that are necessary for a successful personal injury lawsuit can be proven. These steps are referenced below as follows:
- The theme park owed its visitors a duty of care under the law;
- The theme park failed to fulfill the duty owed to the visitor by being negligent, reckless, or even intentionally engaging in conduct that created a risk of harm;
- As a direct result of the theme park’s breach of its duty, a visitor suffered personal injury;
- The injured visitor incurred economic losses as a result of their injury.
In other cases, the theme park can also be held liable for injuries resulting from dangerous park premises or structures that are dangerous in some regard. For example, the park may be liable for a failure to repair a dangerous building or potentially harmful ride. Liability is especially likely if the theme park management knew of a dangerous condition or should have known of it but failed to repair it as necessary.
Injuries can result from the failure of rides or parts of rides critical to safety, e.g., seatbelts or harnesses. These and other mechanical failures may sometimes result from a defective part of the ride. In such cases, the manufacturer or distributor of a part that was incorporated into a ride or other equipment in the park may be held liable for strict product liability for a product defect.
Are There Any Legal Remedies for a Theme Park Accident Claim?
Theme park accidents can often be serious, and the victim may need to seek compensation for their economic losses through the legal system. In such cases, a lawsuit may be filed for damages to compensate the injured park guest for economic losses they suffer due to their injury.
Compensatory damages awarded in any case, whether it is a lawsuit based on negligence, strict product liability, or premises liability, are going to compensate the victim as follows:
- Medical Care: All of the necessary medical treatment the person received for their injuries. This would include losses such as hospital bills, doctor’s bills, and rehabilitation and physical therapy costs. The key word is “necessary.” The treatment must have been necessary to restore the person to good health;
- Lost Wages: Compensatory damages cover wages, both past and future, that a person loses when they cannot work because of their injuries;
- Loss of Earning Capacity: If the guest’s injuries have a negative impact on their earning capacity, they would be able to recover compensation for the economic loss this causes;
- Pain and Suffering: This amount compensates for the mental and emotional aspect of a person’s injury;
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are rarely awarded in cases where the party liable acted with extreme recklessness or perhaps intentionally.
Who Regulates Theme Parks?
Federal, state, and local governments have regulations that apply to theme parks. Federal government regulations apply only to rides not fixed in a permanent location, as are those at the major theme and amusement parks. Federal regulations apply to small, traveling carnivals. States regulate rides that are fixed in place, such as those at Disney World or Legoland. Owners and manufacturers of rides and attractions may also voluntarily subscribe to industry safety standards established by the nonprofit ASTM International.
In a case in Tennessee, the manager of an amusement park was found guilty of reckless homicide in the case of a woman who fell to her death from a ride that involved great heights. So, in some extreme cases, an owner or manager’s conduct may rise to criminal recklessness.
Most states have special laws to improve guests’ safety at amusement and theme parks. Some states issue licenses to amusement park ride owner-operators. They may also require them to have liability insurance with high-value payout limits. Some states also perform equipment inspections or require daily equipment testing to ensure that it is operating properly. They may enforce rules about staffing, such as requiring operators to be over the age of 16. Or, they may require one operator to work on no more than one machine at a time.
If laws and regulations have been violated and contributed to an accident, this may help a victim establish their negligence case.
The state of Florida, home to many theme parks, inspects all permanent rides, but not if the managing company employs more than 1,000 people. This exemption excludes such popular amusement parks as Disney World, Busch Gardens, and Universal Studios.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Theme Park Accident Lawsuit?
Theme park accident lawsuits can be complex and involve many legal theories, e.g., negligence and strict product liability.
If you have been injured in a theme park accident, it is in your interest to consult a personal injury lawyer in your area to help recover compensation for your injuries. Your lawyer will be able to represent you in court and provide you with legal guidance throughout the case.