State fairs are iconic Americana. The whir of cotton candy machines, the game jingles and, of course, the rides.
But the experience isn’t always as safe as patrons have come to expect. Recently in Ohio, a U.S. Marine recruit, just 18-years-old, was killed and seven others injured when the Fire Ball ride broke apart in mid-operation, just hours after it had passed its inspection. Video captured by a person nearby shows the ride swinging back and forth like a pendulum before it crashed and part of the ride went flying, dumping several passengers. Soon after the incident was reported other state and local fairs with similar rides shut them down, hoping to figure out what went wrong before re-opening them. The Dutch manufacturer of the ride, which reports there are 43 similar rides across the world, including 11 in the U.S., is conducting its own examination into what went wrong.
In the meantime, it’s caused many fair officials and regulators to take stock of the safety procedures currently in place, and whether patrons may face an unreasonable risk of personal injury or wrongful death just for seeking a few momentary thrills.
USA Today recently delved into questions about whether the inspection process is thorough and adequate enough. In Ohio, for instance, there are a total of eight inspectors for the entire state. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, those inspectors issued some 3,700 annual permits. While the number of permits has risen approximately 23 percent over the last seven years, the number of ride inspectors has not.
Part of the issue, as noted in the article, is that states each have their own system and standards for carnival ride inspections. With regard to training, many send inspectors-in-training to the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials. But the inconsistent standards from state-to-state can mean the process is confusing.
In Florida, the process is overseen by a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The agency reports it has more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff, and these groups are expected to examine both temporary rides (those that regularly relocate, with or without assembly) and permanent rides (those not regularly relocated and operate as a permanent fixture on that site).
Temporary amusement park rides have to be inspected every time they set up at a new location, while permanent rides are inspected semiannually. Rides all must be permitted by the agency every year, and must undergo quality testing for structural integrity at least once every 12 months. These inspectors look at not just rides like Ferris Wheels, but go-kart tracks, water-related rides and ziplines. This is also the agency responsible for investigating accidents and imposing sanctions on ride owners who flout the law and put the public in danger.
But even with this, Orlando amusement park accidents and fair ride accidents still happen.
These claims generally fall into one of two categories:
- Premises liability. The owner or operator of the site owed a duty of care to ensure it addressed or warned of any unsafe conditions on site.
- Product liability. The manufacturers of the rides themselves were negligent in designing, manufacturing or repairing the rides, which were unreasonably dangerous.
If you are injured in a Florida fair ride accident, our injury attorneys in Orlando can help you determine your legal options.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
We’re heading into peak state fair season. How safe is your ride? July 29, 2017, By James Pilcher, USA Today
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Jury Awards $11.2 Million in Wrongful Death on Film Set, July 29, 2017, Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer Blog