Florida is home to some of the most renowned amusement parks in the world. Orlando’s Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and Tampa’s Busch Gardens rank among some of the most popular tourist destinations in the Sunshine State. But thousands of miles away, an amusement park accident in Australia that claimed the lives of four people is raising serious questions about the safety of water park rides. Busch Gardens announced the park will close its popular Congo River Rapids ride after two people were flung from their raft and two others were trapped underwater and in the machinery of Dreamworld’s Thunder River Rapids ride in Australia.
What happened in Australia is a sobering reminder of the importance of proper safety at amusement parks. If the same accident happened in Florida, an amusement park could face the possibility of damaging wrongful death and premises liability lawsuits. The similarities between Busch Gardens Congo River Rapids and the Thunder River Rapids ride are striking. Both include circular rafts that are guided by a conveyor through a man-made river. In addition to the four fatalities in Australia, two children survived but were traumatized by the accident. The raft, carrying six people, flipped over after it made contact with another carriage. During the week Busch Gardens officials conducted a thorough review of its operating and safety procedures before re-opening the ride two days later.
An amusement park could face a premises liability lawsuit if found negligent of failing to administer proper safety procedures and provide sufficient maintenance. Under premises liability laws, amusement park visitors are divided into three categories: trespassers, licensees and invitees. To successfully win a lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove they were admitted to the park and were allowed by employees to be present where the accident occurred. It is the park’s responsibility to warn visitors if there is a potential danger and to maintain safe conditions. Failure to comply would result in a “breach of duty”, which would make the park liable to an injured visitor. Trespassers who suffer injuries from an amusement park ride are not eligible to collect compensation for premises liability. There are two types of trespassers–those who sneak into the park without paying for admission and paying customers who venture into an area that is clearly off limits.
It is important to understand amusement parks are not responsible for every paying customer that is injured from a ride or attraction. Unfortunately, accidents can happen even when all safety procedures, inspections and training are followed correctly. For example, many people suffer injuries to their arms and legs on roller coasters. If the park or its employees warn passengers about the dangers of extending their arms during the ride, it is not liable for subsequent injuries.
Amusement parks are meant to be fun. But there is an element of danger when thrill seekers go on high-risk attractions, such as amusement park roller coasters or even bungee jumps. It is not only the responsibility of the park to provide a safe environment, the visitor also has an obligation to follow all rules provided by the park. If you have suffered injuries from an amusement park ride, consult with a personal injury lawyer that can correctly explain whether you have a premises liability claim.