Caleb Schwab, who was 10-years old at the time, was killed when he rode an amusement park water slide at Schlitterbahn in Kansas City. His family will be receiving payments from the defendants for nearly $20 million from the accident on the Verruckt ride at the park. The settlement is said to be the biggest in a wrongful death matter where the victim was a minor in state history. Schwab, whose father is a member of the House in Kansas, died from a wound in the neck. The raft that the child was using sailed off the surface of the slide into some netting and support poles. Following the incident, others who had previously used the slide claimed that their rafts were also sent airborne.
Following the accident, the widely-hyped ride was closed down and Schlitterbahn has agreed to remove it when the court allows. Two women on the slide at about the same time sustained facial injuries. These two women apparently demanded that the ride be removed as part of their settlement agreements, of which the financial details were not disclosed.
Several Kansas City-area lawyers agreed that the size of the settlement was unprecedented. Kansas is known to have some of the tightest limitations in the country on awards for damages. Awards for non-economic damages in the state are generally capped at $250,000 and punitive damages are not permitted in matters of wrongful death. One interesting aspect of the case involved how future lost wages are determined for a child.
The case exposed the relatively minimal regulations that the state had in place for inspecting and enforcing the safety of rides at these parks. The current law has the Kansas Department of Labor overseeing the regulations of these rides. The Verruckt had actually not been inspected yet since it was established at the park. Governor Brownback recently signed approval for a bill that furthers the regulations by implementing stricter inspection and insurance provisions. Caleb’s father, Scott Schwab, reportedly was in favor of the legislation and expressed hope that such incidents will not occur in the state moving forward.
The existing laws stated that rides required an inspection certificate in order to be operated. Permanently installed rides were required to have an annual “self-inspection” by a qualified inspector. A qualified inspector was defined as being someone holding current certification or other qualifying criteria, but the provision is vague and not rigidly enforced. Rides installed at temporary sites required self–inspection within the past 30 days of being put in place. The law allowed for unannounced inspections; however, the consequence for a first violation was simply a warning.