Notable Amusement Park Accidents in America

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Ah, amusement parks: thrills, chills, and overpriced hot dogs galore.  Amusement parks are beloved by millions for delivering the anti-gravity, adrenaline rush extremes that day-to-day life just can’t provide; but for all of their devoted fans, amusement parks aren’t without their detractors.  Some say that far from offering up fun and excitement, amusement parks are actually death-traps full of inattentive staffers, defective safety features, and malfunctioning rides.  But while the statistical odds are generally in your favor, concerns about theme park safety have taken root in the American psyche for a reason.  Rides do break down, and sadly, people do die at theme parks and water parks every year.  In this blog entry, our amusement park accident attorneys probe into the dismal safety records of the most dangerous amusement parks in America.

95% of Amusement Parks Don’t Report Their Accidents

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) estimates that nearly two billion people – one-third of the global population – will buckle into an amusement park ride this year.  The majority of these two billion thrill-seekers will enjoy a perfectly safe (if expensive) day among the teacups, pirate ships, and roller coasters – but some will be injured. Some will even die.

According to the IAAPA, there are currently some 400 amusement parks dispersed throughout the United States.  Yet among these 400-odd parks, since 2001, only 81 have actually provided the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with any data regarding their rates of attendance and ridership.  19 parks provided data about ridership, but not attendance.  Most disturbingly, only 7 out of 386 facilities reported any data about injuries and accidents. That means 5.2% of amusement parks report their injuries — and 94.8% do not

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Six Flags Great Adventure

With facilities located in states across the country (not to mention those vaguely unsettling commercials), Six Flags is arguably America’s most famous amusement park, however, amusement park accidents occur here too.

Sometimes, even the employees fall victim.  In July of 2012, the Le Vampire roller coaster killed a 67-year-old park employee who was struck in the head.  The employee was found dead underneath the coaster, having suffered massive head trauma.  But,  the victims of amusement park accidents can also be visitors.

In June of 2008, a male teenager was decapitated by the Batman: The Ride roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia.  Ironically, the young man was killed after hopping a fence to retrieve a hat he had lost during a completely safe ride on the same coaster minutes earlier.

A year earlier, in June of 2007, a 13-year-old girl was riding Superman: Tower of Power, a “hellevator” style ride which shoots riders upward along a vertical shaft before dropping them at high speeds.  A broken cable on the ride snapped, completely severing the girl’s feet.  The incident occurred at a Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom.

In 2004, a male patron of Six Flags New England in Massachusetts was ejected from the infamous Superman: Ride of Steel coaster.  He was thrown from the ride during the final turn, striking a rail and falling several feet to the ground below.  The man passed away en route to the hospital.

Action Park

If you’re already horrified, take a moment to mentally prepare for the last segment of this entry, because New Jersey’s notorious Action Park is famous for its widely reported accidents.  

Editor’s note: While Action Park has returned for the 2014 season, the new park is owned and operated by different management. It is unaffiliated with the park discussed in this article. When this article was written Action Park did not exist. All past and future references to Action Park refer to the now-defunct original incarnation of the park. 

Action Park opened its gates in Vernon, New Jersey in 1978.  We’ll admit that safety regulation across all industries, including the amusement park industry, were more relaxed 36 years ago than they are today — but even by the standards of the time, Action Park was a safety disaster.  Today, the defunct park is half-jokingly remembered as “Accident Park,” “Traction Park,” and “Class Action Park.”

Why all the sordid nicknames?

1980 marked the beginning of a long downhill spiral for Action Park.  Just two years after the park’s grand opening, a 19-year-old employee was killed on the Alpine Slide ride when the car he was riding in jumped up from the track, causing the young man to fatally strike his head on a rock above.

In July of 1982, a 15-year-0ld boy drowned in the water park section of Action Park while swimming in the Tidal Wave Pool.   Within less than a week, another death occurred at “Waterworld,” this time on the Kayak Experience.  When the patron’s kayak tipped, he exited the boat to right himself… and in doing so, unknowingly stepped on a patch of exposed live wiring, causing a fatal heart attack.

Park officials described the damage as “just a nick” in the wiring.

Two years later, in 1984, a third visitor was killed at Waterworld in another swimming pool accident.  In this instance, a patron on the Tarzan Swing ride fell from water as warm as 80 degrees into water as cold as 50 degrees.  The sudden and massive change in temperature led to a fatal heart attack, as in the case of the exposed wiring two years earlier.  Later the same year, a 20-year-old visitor from New York drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool, in an eerie repeat of the incident in 1982.  Astonishingly, in 1987 yet another life was claimed by drowning in the Tidal Wave Pool.

In addition to negligent maintenance on the rides themselves, the park also suffered from a climate of lax supervision.  Alcohol was readily available for purchase, and many accounts recall drunk, underaged, or inattentive ride operators who barely paid attention to the lives they were partially responsible for protecting.

As the deaths and injuries piled atop one another, Action Park was repeatedly bombarded by personal injury lawsuits and permanent ride closures until it finally shut its doors forever in 1996.  But even today, “Class Action Park’s” grizzly reputation endures.

If you or someone you love was injured on an amusement park ride, you may have a case for a premises liability lawsuit.  For a free and confidential case evaluation with an experienced personal injury attorney, call the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000, or contact us online.

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