It was a tough weekend in the amusement world, especially for this early in the season.
First, in South Carolina, a kiddie train overturned, killing a six-year-old boy and injuring dozens. Coverage suggests that authorities are evaluating the possibility of sabotage, though it’s not clear to me if that’s based on anything in particular, or just reflecting the fact that they haven’t excluded the possibility yet. Update: The state inspector in South Carolina has been fired, after it was revealed that the train was not actually operational during his inspection. Additionally, the state has apparently also suspended all other miniature trains in South Carolina. Second update: The fired inspector apparently acknowledged that he indicated on the inspection form that he had, for example, evaluated the speed of the train, but that he had not in fact done so. I haven’t seen any stories showing any factual nexus between his failure to inspect and the accident, but it’s also very early.
Second, in Houston, a man fell from a HiMiler coaster at the rodeo and died. The Rodeo’s midway is done by Ray Cammack Shows. The ride (pictured here) has, if I’m seeing it correctly, a single lap bar restraint.
The ride operator at Extreme World who released a patron on a freefall ride before the net below was in place (resulting in severe injuries) has pleaded no contest to second degree reckless injury. A civil suit is still pending.
In a perhaps parallel case, a man fell to his death from a somewhat similar ride at a Tokyo theme park late last month. Both rides are Maurer Sohne spinning coasters with at least superficially similar trains and restraints. (RCDB seems to be down right now, so I can’t link to great comparison shots, but you can find a lot of pictures of the Tokyo ride here, and of the Louisiana ride here.)
Every couple of years, during the off-season for most amusement parks, I remember the Great Prediction of the Death of Roller Coasters in California of 2005. (I should probably come up with a better name than that.)
Back in 2005, not long after I started teaching, the California Supreme Court ruled that roller coasters are common carriers. (I posted about the lower court’s ruling here; I posted a teeny bit about the Supreme Court’s ruling here; Tony Sebok disagreed here, I think focusing more on policy than was justified given the plain language of the statute.) As I have said, I doubt I would write a common carrier statute to intentionally encompass amusement park rides, but a legislature could quite certainly choose to do so.
Anyway, what makes me return to the case every so often is to check in on the predictions of doom from the industry:
As is my habit in this occasional ritual, I used RCDB‘s excellent advanced search to see what new coasters have opened since 2005. It looks like eleven new coasters have opened, with two new coasters (one major, one kiddie) under construction at Six Flags Magic Mountain right now. That is a bit fewer than the five years prior, but those five prior years also included the opening of Gilroy Gardens and Disney’s California Adventure (and didn’t include an economic meltdown).
For the same reasons I mentioned back in 2005, it was a silly statement then, and remains a silly statement now.
WiscNews.com has details of the motion, which focuses on the intent element. The defendant argues that the state does not allege facts sufficient to support a finding of recklessness.
A half-dozen years ago, a woman died after falling from a Zamperla Hawk ride at Rockin’ Raceway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Â I posted quite a number of entries about the case, all of which are here. Â It turned out that the microswitches that would prevent the ride from operating when the restraints weren’t locked in had been bypassed. Â The park owner was convicted of reckless homicide, the jury concluding, necessarily, that he had performed that bypass.
The decedent’s family filed suit against the ride manufacturer, Zamperla, alleging design defect. Â (The park and park owner were originally in the suit, but voluntarily nonsuited, I would guess because they were judgment-proof.) Â The defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that the criminal misconduct by the park owner was, as a matter of law, unforeseeable. Â The trial court agreed, and now, the intermediate appellate court in Tennessee has affirmed [PDF].
The opinion is quite interesting, and presents a very nice instance of the challenges presented by third-party misconduct in the context of product design. The plaintiffs contended that the design should have been harder to bypass, and I assume that such a design is feasible (it’s fairly easy to imagine such a thing). Â But, the court concluded, a park bypassing such critical safety mechanisms was, as a matter of law, unforeseeable. Â As such, the court concluded that summary judgment was appropriate on the claim of defect.
Definitely worth a read.
A 21-year old woman died at the Dixie Landin’ amusement park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday. Â She fell out of the park’s “Xtreme” spinning coaster. Â The local paper reports (not surprisingly) that the focus is on the restraints, and an area TV channel reports that a local teen alleges that the coaster had restraint issues a few days prior. Â One story reports that witnesses said that the shoulder restraints came undone, which is a little puzzling, since photos and the ride company’s website indicate lap bars.
The ride is, according to the park’s website, its newest addition. Â It’s a Maurer Sohne spinning coaster, relocated, per RCDB, from a park in the Netherlands. Â A March 2007 service bulletin addresses how to inspect and maintain the restraint. Â The coaster is about 50 feet tall; coverage suggests that the young woman fell about 30 feet. Â Photos show the ride with significant banking on a number of the curves; with a spinning car, the forces can vary a lot on those curves.
The family of Greyson Yoe, who died when he was electrocuted in line for a bumper car ride at the Lake County Fair, proved fault but will receive no additional compensation in their suit against the state agency that oversees amusement rides. Â The News-Herald has more, and here’s my recent post on the case (referencing a whole bunch more writings I’ve done in the past).