When the carnival comes to town, the frills, thrills and outdoor fun can come at a steep cost that is far more than the price of admission and thousands of people are seriously injured by carnival rides each year. Traveling amusement park rides are far from safe. The bright flashing lights and loud sounds often mask the dangers behind a veneer of excitement and intrigue.
Not So Much Fun in the Sun
Thousands of people are injured on carnival amusements each year. In 2013, it is estimated that 4,300 people were injured. This rose to 4,500 in 2014 and rose again to 4,800 in 2015. However, it is highly likely that the actual number of people injured is significantly higher. That is because federal law does not require carnival operators to report incidents. In fact, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates that a mere 7% of traveling carnivals report incidents and injuries. This paltry percentage means that guests have no way of knowing the incident history and safety record of the carnivals they patronize.
Each ride presents a unique set of risks and dangers. While roller coasters accounted for approximately 33% of fatalities over the past decade, “safer” rides including merry-go-rounds and carousels caused 21% of injuries. Similarly, the risks of injuries within “bounce houses” and other inflatable attractions is considerable. In 2013, it was estimated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that approximately 20,700 people were injured in bounce house accidents in 2016. These numbers are rising at a significant rate and the number of people injured in 2016 was four times as much as those who were injured in 2003.
One reason carnival rides are so dangerous is that they are constantly on the move. They are set up for a few days here and there, broken down, and transported to the next destination. In fact, many carnivals travel on a 9 to 10-month schedule during which rides can be assembled and disassembled dozens of times. This leads to considerable wear and tear on the rides and causes burn-out among personnel. It is a recipe for disaster that can lead to malfunctions and errors that can have devastating consequences.
Carnival Liability & Insurance
Each state has different requirements regarding certification and ride inspection. Often, the state inspects the ride and issues a certificate that is valid for one year. This can be done by the state Department of Insurance, Department of Agriculture, or Department of Public Safety. Few states inspect these rides throughout the year, and only a handful of states have dedicated personnel for this task. The responsible agency varies from state to state, creating a patchwork of oversight that leaves consumers exposed to considerable risk.
In many cases, the responsible agency inspects little more than a sample of all the rides registered in the state. It is not uncommon for the operators of traveling carnival amusements to “self-regulate” and determine which rides are safe to operate, which rides need maintenance, etc. Under the Consumer Products Safety Act, there are no requirements for federal inspections of fairs and carnivals. In most states, carnival operators are required to carry $1 million in liability insurance per incident. This varies by state and some states such as California require operators to carry as much as $3 million.
Carnival patrons assume a certain level of risk when choosing to ride a carnival attraction. Many carnival operators attempt to shield themselves from personal injury lawsuits by posting ride disclaimers and printing them on tickets. However, this does not mean that a carnival operator isn’t liable for the injuries and wrongful deaths their rides cause.
The majority of carnival accidents are directly connected to the negligence of the carnival owner or those who are responsible for maintaining and operating the rides. Examples of negligence include failure to perform regular maintenance and inspections, failure to shut-down a ride when potentially catastrophic faults are discovered, failure to prevent those with noticeable health conditions from using the ride, failure to properly train personnel on ride assembly and operation, etc. Similarly, state fairs and those responsible for maintaining the grounds can be held liable under the doctrine of premises liability.
In addition to the carnival operator, the ride manufacturer may also be named as a defendant in a product liability lawsuit. Manufacturers can be held liable for defects in design, material defects, or defects in construction that place patrons at risk of injury or death.