Despite Fatal Summer Camp Zip Line Accident, State Report Does Not Recommend Regulation

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We have previously discussed how much of the regulation regarding the health and safety that people assume exists is largely illusory. For instance, while most people would assume that the rides at fairs, theme parks, and carnivals are highly regulated and subject to strict safety standards the reality is that no national standard for ride and activity safety exists. Rather, a patchwork of state laws results in wildly uneven safety standards among states and facilities. While some states have moderate regulations in place, most provide little to no oversight of potentially hazardous or deadly recreational activities.  

This information holds true for regulation of zip lines in most states regardless of whether the line is located at a summer camp, fitness facility, fair, carnival, or major theme park. Unfortunately, this news often comes as a surprise to participants and the parents of minors who decide to engage in these activities. This holds true in North Carolina regarding the regulation of the state’s more than 100 commercial zip lines. While many expected lawmakers to take steps toward setting forth safety standards for these types of attractions, it appears that this hope may have been misplaced.

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North Carolina Department of Labor Report States Ziplines Don’t Need Regulation

Following the death of a young girl at a summer camp because she was improperly secured in the zipline harness, many believed that legislators would soon enact standards for zip lines. In fact, last July, following a number of zipline deaths the North Carolina House passed House Bill 39. The bill significantly increased the penalties that can be imposed on those individuals and businesses who illegally operate amusements in the state. However, the legislators also recognized that zip lines are not currently considered an amusement for regulatory purposes in the state. Thus, the bill also directed the North Carolina Department of Labor to study the issue of extending regulations to cover zip lines. The bill passed unanimously.

The zip line industry has already developed its own standards regarding the safe design of zip line courses, strength and design standards for the equipment, and course maintenance. The industry itself recognizes that minimum standards are necessary in regard to these elements as evidenced by its existing ANSI / PRCA standards and frequent updates to the standards. This could have served as a common-sense starting point for the minimum standards all for the zip line and aerial challenge courses in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Department of Labor appears to have put politics before the safety of children and adults who participate in the amusement activity.

Parents of Girl Killed in Zip Line Accident Shocked at State Report

Many, including the parents of the girl killed in the camp zip line, expressed shock over the state labor report. The parents believe that but for the lack of inspection in the state, their daughter would still be alive. However, the state labor department that is responsible for inspecting amusements in the state decided that zip lines are not amusements.

To reach this conclusion and against the weight of evidence, they classified zip lines as a sport rather than as passive entertainment like amusement rides are classified. This is despite the fact that many, if not most, zip line riders are one-time or infrequent participants in zip lining. It further ignores that for most participants they are given a basic crash course and then sent on their way down a set path. Unlike an amusement like bumper cars, the rider does not have to steer but merely maintain a forward orientation (most zip lines include assistive devices to ensure riders maintain a forward orientation). Though it is more physically demanding, it shares many elements of an Autobahn-type amusement where a person can steer, accelerate, and brake while guided by a metal rail. Here, the rail is the zip line and the rider only has to brake. Despite these similarities to rides of this type that present significantly less risk of serious injury or death the department declined to recommend regulation writing, “No amount of regulation will remove all risk from this industry and the department is not convinced that additional regulations will create a safer industry.”

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Regulation Can Reduce the Risk of Injury or Death

While it is certainly true that no human activity can be made 100% safe, the second part of the statement ignores evidence to the contrary. The summer camp zip line accident and death was the result of zip line ride negligence on the part of the operator. Frequent, required training sessions can reduce the likelihood of errors of this type from occurring. Furthermore, since the industry is in an early stage of development and certain zip line harnesses have been subject to safety advisories including for a head and neck entrapment warning for dual-leg lanyards. Furthermore, course design can play a large role in the likelihood of injury for participants. A failure to provide ample warnings regarding the need to brake or padded surfaces where riders dismount can result in catastrophic life-altering injuries. Regulation can reduce the chances of any of these reasons resulting severe bodily injury.

Suffered an Accident? Call a The Reiff Law Firm Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one have had a severe injury due to a zip lining accident contact a personal injury attorney of The Reiff Law Firm today by calling (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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