According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were approximately 30,900 injuries that involved amusement rides in 2016. Press Secretary Patty Davis also stated that since 2010 there have been 22 such deaths. Jennifer Lambert recently settled a case for $1.8 million after suffering a brain injury at the Ohio State Fair that has forced her to live in a long-term care facility. Amusements of America and two safety inspection providers will pay the settlement.
Lambert, who was 18-years-old, visited the Ohio State Fair on opening day. She decided to ride the Fire Ball, a thrill ride that spins riders through the air. Suddenly a large portion of the carriage broke apart sending a group of four riders crashing to the pavement below, killing one person and injuring the others. Inspectors from both the state and a private inspection company had conducted a safety check on the ride prior to the accident. It was later determined that water had accumulated within a hollow support arm and created massive corrosion that compromised the support structure.
Immunity for the State
Ohio’s Department of Agriculture contains a division responsible for amusement rides. The Department has since affirmed that their inspectors had done their job. Either way, state entities are typically shielded from injury claims based on governmental immunity laws. The exception to this immunity is if it were determined that the state acted with intent or demonstrated indifference that was clearly reckless. Saferparks, a California organization that advocates for victims of amusement ride accidents, reports that approximately 20 states oversee amusement ride safety to some degree and nine others have no role in oversight.
Were Obvious Signs Missed?
It was reported that just hours before the accident, state officials had inspected the ride. These inspectors did not recall any damage to the ride amid their “vigorous” review. An attorney for one teenager injured that day says that the injuries were the result of poor inspection practices. Because the state inspectors are protected from allegations of negligence, most of these claims name the owner of the ride or manufacturer as defendants.
Many Calling for Stricter Standards
Those in the amusement ride business traditionally has opposed the implementation of federal standards for regulation, rather that it be handled at the state level. There is widespread support from accident victims for ride inspection reforms. Greg Fehr, an accident investigator in Nevada, says that heightened safety standards are needed, but noted that inspectors typically adhere to manufacturer recommendations.
Chief Inspector Responds
Amusements of America, one of the named defendants, did produce documentation that ultrasonic tests of the ride had been conducted prior. Ohio’s Chief Inspector Michael Vartorella responded to the incident by confirming the Amusements of America had complied with the legal requirements of the state. He says that all Department of Agriculture staff is “accountable to the people of Ohio”. He reiterated that over the two days prior to the accident the ride was properly inspected.