The past week has seemingly presented nothing but harrowing news from amusement parks and waterparks throughout the nation. Since Sunday, August 7, 2016, at least three major amusement park accidents have occurred. At the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, a boy was decapitated on the world’s tallest waterslide while in Tennessee several teens fell from a festival Ferris wheel. The latest recent incident occurred right here in Pennsylvania at Idlewild & Soak Zone in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Ligonier is located about 50 miles to the east of Pittsburgh. These accidents show that amusement park deaths are far too common.
Many are asking questions like, “Why are these ride accidents occurring now, at the end of summer?” After all, when parents, grandparents, or legal guardians take their children out for a day of supposedly safe summer fun at an amusement park, fair, or festival they expect the company to engage in all steps and measures needed to ensure a safe experience. Unfortunately, the answer to questions regarding the recent spike in ride accidents may be significantly related to the lack of a comprehensive nationwide system that regulates fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, and other facilities where rides are offered to the public. If you or someone you love experienced a serious injury or death from a Pennsylvania amusement park injury attorney of The Reiff Law Firm.
Understanding How the Rollercoaster Accident Occurred at Idlewild Theme Park
While details are still emerging regarding the rollercoaster accident, some facts regarding the incident are clear. According to news reports, the young boy injured in the fall from the roller coaster was three years old. He was riding a ride known as the Rollo Coaster when the incident occurred.
The Rollo Coaster is a venerable and longstanding ride at the Idlewild amusement park. The ride was Idlewild’s first and only roller coaster for decades from the ride’s initial opening in 1938 until the Wild Mouse became the park’s second and more intense rollercoaster in 1993.
According to eyewitness reports, the accident occurred as the train carrying the boy and his brother rounded a corner. The three-year-old boy fell from the car and fell roughly ten feet to the ground. When the boy hit the ground, he struck head first. The boy was rushed to the hospital for surgery and is listed in critical condition. While exact details regarding the boy’s condition and medical procedures have not yet been released, he may have suffered a serious traumatic brain injury that produced significant intracranial swelling and pressure. Following an injury of this type, doctors may perform surgery to reduce and relieve the pressure inside the skull.
Other Riders Express Concern Regarding the Rollercoaster Harnesses
Unfortunately, some statements made by park guests following the accident seem to suggest that this accident may have been preventable. In an interview featured on WXPI.com, Kelly Howard, who took her 3- and 5-year-old sons on the ride earlier in the day reported troubling problems with the rollercoaster car’s safety restraints. She stated that “I had to literally hold [my son] down. There was no belt to hold him in. He even asked why there wasn’t a belt.”
Investigators have yet to make an official determination the exact cause of the accident. The ride is closed indefinitely until investigators make this determination.
Who Oversees Ride Safety in Pennsylvania?
On this blog, we have frequently written about the lack of a national regulatory or oversight of carnival, fair, and amusement park rides. Rather, inspections and other aspects of a safety regime to protect consumers from unsafe ride operators are left to the states. In some state, this amounts to virtually no regulation and oversight.
That said, Pennsylvania’s system of regulatory oversight is better than what is found in many states. Amusement park rides are generally regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Following the Idlewild rollercoaster accident, an n inspector from the agency went on record stating that rides at the park are inspected daily. The statement further clarified that:
This ride is one of more than 10,200 across the commonwealth that is registered with the state. There are more than 1,650 inspectors that the department has trained and certified to monitor rides in an effort to strengthen public safety. The department has inspected and registered amusement rides under the Amusement Ride Safety Act since 1984.
However, eyewitness statements that seem to suggest a shocking lack of adequate restraints on a rollercoaster are firmly at odds with claims of routine and thorough inspections. However, regarding this specific inquiry into the Rollo Coaster accident, the department’s deputy communications director said that:
At this point, the department is working with the amusement park’s staff and local officials to investigate. As part of that investigation, the department has an inspector on site to inspect the ride, and we are examining the inspection history. At this point, we know the ride was most recently inspected by a private certified inspector on Aug. 6, 2016, and that it passed that inspection.
At The Reiff Law Firm, our Six Flags amusement park injury attorneys send our best wishes to the young boy and his family. We wish him a full and speedy recovery from his injuries.