As noted in a recent article featured in the Great Falls Tribune, fair and carnival rides are typically safe for thousands, if not millions, of patrons each year. However a mistake or an unfortunate circumstance can result in accidents and injuries to those people on rides and attractions. In particular, the article notes the recent cluster park accidents involving a tree branch that became lodged on a roller coaster track, a man who lost the tip of his finger on a ride at a major theme park, and a woman who was ejected from a roller coaster in Texas. Using these accidents as a starting point, the article poses the question “Are carnival rides safe?” to answer that question, the author interviewed a number of individuals familiar with the operation of the amusement industry, the accidents and the resulting litigation. What the study found is that there is no simple answer to this question. Whether a ride or carnival is safe is based largely on what, if any, regulation regime is present in the state and the factors that are present on the ground.
A Hodgepodge of State and Federal Standards
Until 1981, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was empowered with the authority to regulate amusement park rides that were fixed to a single location. However Congress revoked that regulatory power. Furthermore, while the CPSC can oversee the manufacture and installation of carnival rides, it cannot conduct on-site safety inspections. In turn, what results is a lack of comprehensive safety standards and a piecemeal state-by-state gap-filling approach. Unfortunately some states have apparently failed to address or have declined to correct the gaps in regulation. Montana appears to be a state whose legislature has chosen the latter. In an interview for the Tribune article The Reiff Law Firm attorney, Jeffery Reiff stated, “Montana is one of the states that really has no regulations on amusement rides. Montana law even says, ‘The legislature finds that amusement rides are used by a large number of Montana citizens and attract a large number of non-residents, significantly contributing to Montana’s tourism industry and its tax base.'” While Montana law requires the exercise of reasonable care, there is no government enforcement agency in Montana. Furthermore, Montana law does not require:
- Safety inspections of rides
- Recording of injuries
- Reporting of injuries
- The operator to carry liability insurance
To Jeffery Reiff this is essentially tantamount to announcing that, “We’re not going to have standards and you have to understand that you assume the risk when you go on these rides. People say, ‘Everybody knows rides are dangerous. They assume the risk when they go on it.’ But if there’s not accurate reporting or you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes — you’ve got a problem. If you don’t know about the risks, how can you assume them? It’s a terrible law.”
Jeffery Reiff also expresses concerns with the individuals employed by the fair or carnival. He characterizes many of those employees as temporary employees or independent contractors. However John Hanschen, owner of Thomas Carnival Co., claims that this characterization is inaccurate. For the Tribune piece he stated, “Mostly everybody who works for us has long-term experience ranging from four or five years to 40 years.” He then added, “We do have some temporary foreign labor workers — maybe 50 percent of our crew.”
Recent Accident at Montana State Fair Raises Additional Questions
A July 18, 2014 accident on the Power Tramp ride at a Montana Fair has raised additional questions. The ride is operated by North Star Amusements and, according to an investigation by NBC Montana, this is the second accident that has occurred on this ride. According to an eyewitness account by Hanibal Clayton, he was waiting for his niece to jump on the Power Tramp when he suddenly heard a snapping noise. He then said that he saw a teenage girl fall ten feet and land on the ground near the attraction. When Clayton left the scene he saw the girl still passed out on the ground. Reports indicate that the girl suffered a broken pelvis. Missoula County Commissioner, Jean Curtiss remarked, “They need to be confident that they’re putting [the rides] together right, and have the right people. That’s why so many people travel with them.” North Star Amusement’s insurance company is now handling the matter.
Understand your State’s Regulatory Regime before Heading to the Fair
Because standards and regulations vary widely from state-to-state, it is important that fair-goers understand what actions are taken in their state – and what actions are not. A 2013 infographic, prepared by USA Today following a different Montana fair accident, contains a 50 state survey of amusement park regulations. However if you have already suffered a serious injury in New Jersey or Pennsylvania due to a fair or carnival accident, contact The Reiff Law Firm today by calling (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.