In 2016, on the first day of the Greene County Fair in Greenville, TN, three girls were injured after falling roughly 35 feet from a Ferris wheel gondola that they were riding in. The girls were ages 6, 10 and 16 and their mother, Kimmie Reynolds, has received significant encouragement and support from the community since. The federal case is underway in Tennessee’s Eastern District Court, which is headquartered in Knoxville, against Family Attractions Amusement, the manufacturer of the ride, and High-Lite Rides, a maintenance provider.
The 6-year-old was the most seriously injured and remained in the hospital for the longest period, needing a lengthy recovery. She required treatment including speech, physical, and occupational therapy. In addition, the suit claimed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, some memory loss and was experiencing some phobias. A fourth victim, Lorena Cowhy, was mildly injured during the incident and brought a lawsuit also. Inspectors noticed rivets that were in poor condition which allowed supports on the bottom of the gondolas to come loose.
Reportedly, Family Attractions was cleared to conduct business in the state; however, they could not operate the Ferris wheel until it passed some additional hurdles. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that the company had been investigated in 2013 after an accident on their Vortex ride at the North Carolina State Fair. Further investigation of the wheel showed additional safety concerns for the ride that weighed 22.5 tons (equivalent to 45,000 pounds). Reynolds stated that parents have an expectation that the entertainment rides have been determined to be safe for operation. She explained to Local 8 News that she noticed the Ferris wheel’s carts were shifting awkwardly and asked the staff operator to pause the ride, yet he did not respond. Jerry Reynolds, the father, said he felt hopeless watching the girls fall from the ride. Immediately after the accident, all rides at the fair were temporarily closed. The family says that they cannot yet return to the Fair because it brings back such uncomfortable memories of the incident.
Both the Reynolds family and Cowhy seek compensation for personal injury, emotional distress, both economic and noneconomic damages, as well as claims for punitive damages. The suits ask for monetary compensation, yet do not state a specific amount. The lawsuits assert a host of claims including:
- Willful & intentional misconduct
- Gross negligence
- Inflicting emotional distress
- Product liability
- Failure to warn
- Breach of warranty and others
This case of an unsafe amusement ride is a classic case of negligence. Many operators of equipment and services simply choose not to properly inspect, routinely service and maintain things despite a significant risk for injury or wrongful death. The case may hinder the company from being welcomed to future entertainment venues. .