Amusement Park Accidents

Most Amusement Ride Accidents Occur
at the Load and Unload Position

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on August 29, 2013 - Comments off

It goes without saying that amusement park rides require proper staffing and supervision particularly at the loading and unloading positions. Unfortunately, many amusement parks hire seasonal high school and college students to perform these jobs. At many of the New Jersey seashore amusement parks, foreign exchange students with rudimentary English skills are hired to work at or below minimum wage.

Many of today’s modern rides take patrons on incredible journeys at extreme heights and speeds and the machinery utilized to provide these thrill experiences are often huge complex machines capable of hurling riders at unprecedented speeds with remarkable force. Many of the operators of these machines have insufficient experience, training, and maturity. They often succumb to distractions not unfamiliar to teens or foreign exchange students visiting another country for a summer of fun.

In many of the cases that our amusement accident law firm investigates, evidence has revealed distracted operators chatting or texting on cell phones, operating machinery while intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana, girl watching and not paying attention to the precious cargo on the ride. This intolerable behavior is at the expense of safety checks and warnings designed to provide safe operation. Many parks do not maintain regular test protocols for drug and alcohol testing of machine operators.

Of particular concern is the shoulder season in the amusement park industry when parks are not in full swing such as spring openings and fall season. Many times ride operators are preparing to go back to school and temporary employees or operators not familiar with the machines are hired to operate the amusement attraction.

Each ride has specific rules and warnings that must be followed closely by the operator and in many cases involving children, the amusement park owner or operator may be held liable if the child was not tall enough to ride on the ride or was sent alone on the ride. Many rides are operated on a continuous loop and track. Close attention must be paid by the operator to safely load and unload within the limited time periods.

An amusement park owner or operator owes the highest duty of care to a child, even being a higher duty that is owed to an adult because a child may not be aware of the ride’s potential danger in the same way an adult would.

Recently the operator of a ride at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, New Jersey was fired after a 4-year old girl was injured at the load and unload position. A spokesman from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs issued a statement claiming “There are conflicting reports whether she was in the ride and exited the ride prior to its starting or if she entered the ride after the ride was located. The park reported to us that the operator was terminated.” Subsequently an inspection operational test on the ride was performed and it was determined there was no mechanical problems when the ride was reopened. I would expect and hope that the park maintained a video surveillance system of the ride which would clarify the situation and reveal a determination to the conflict.

Despite this situation, it is interesting to note that a commentator on the story stated “It is a shame that the operator should be fired unless it was grave circumstances and that there were many other comments shockingly pointing the finger at the victim.

As an attorney who is prosecuting a case where an 11-year old girl was killed from a ferris wheel fall in Wildwood, New Jersey, it is interesting to note that many of the comments following published news stories of the event pointed to the victim’s fault or negligence rather than any fault of the pier operators of the amusement park operators or staff. While I understand that the riding of many amusements involve risks, it goes without saying that safety should never be an option particularly in a tight economy where many parks and carnivals seem to focus on profitability while shortchanging safety.

Deaths and injury at amusement parks are simply not an acceptable cost of doing business. Until the federal and state governments step up their inspection and violation enforcement programs, it will be left to trial lawyers to protect the rights of people who seek fun and not injury when they visit amusement parks.

Jeffrey M. Reiff is an experienced amusement park accident attorney who regularly publishes and lectures about amusement park accidents. Email him at jmreiff@reiffandbily.com.

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Do Amusement Parks Need Federal Oversight?

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on August 13, 2013 - Comments off

A patron of an amusement park was recently killed in a roller coaster accident. As is typically the case, the amusement park responded by offering the victim’s family its “thoughts and prayers” and professing its commitment to finding answers.

As a practicing amusement park attorney whose law firm regularly investigates and litigates cases involving catastrophic injuries and wrongful deaths resulting from amusement park accidents, I am concerned that the widespread practice of in-house investigations free from independent review will continue ad infinitum unless federal and state agencies take on the greater responsibility of independently reviewing and investigating these accidents.

An amusement park safety expert told me that during his tenure as the safety director of a major national amusement park chain, an information lock-down was put into place after every accident, even minor ones. Lawyers and public relations people were brought in to sanitize facts before an investigation could take place. And the investigations were handled internally.

When people visit amusement parks, they expect funfilled days; they do not expect danger. And, indeed, many amusement parks fuel expectations of carefree enjoyment with their ever-present advertisements on television, radio and billboards. Many of today’s thrill rides are huge, complex machines capable of hurling riders at unprecedented speed with remarkable force. Their design, maintenance and operation often push the limits of physical tolerance for the patrons who ride them.

Due to a widely varying and patchwork collection of state laws regulating amusement safety, no consistency exists, and it is difficult for safety officials to identify which parks and rides pose problems. When patrons pay significant admission fees, they deserve to be protected. And, knowing that government agencies regulate what they eat, drive and fly, they naturally assume that federal agencies are regulating the rides to assure their safety.

The multibillion-dollar amusement park industry remains opposed to any federal oversight of permanent amusement rides and claims that safety is already adequately regulated by the states and parks themselves, despite numerous inconsistencies and exemptions. The industry is largely unregulated, and park operators – who may be more concerned about corporate profitability than consumer safety – don’t do a very good job of regulating themselves.

In almost every amusement park accident case we have litigated, park officials have pointed to strong records of safety, and, instead of taking responsibility, have blamed the victim. I have yet to see one amusement park accident case where the park or operator said it was their fault.

If independent reviewers are not allowed to investigate deadly amusement park accidents, and state and federal agencies are not charged with the responsibility of overseeing these investigations, there is little hope for improved consumer safety in this arena. State and federal legislators must recognize that the current laissez-faire system of regulation has caused scores of preventable injuries and deaths.

Until the federal government closes the loopholes and properly addresses the current patchwork of regulations, lawyers who litigate on behalf of accident victims will continue to protect the rights of consumers. It is high time that legislators join in to help bring about change.

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Louisiana State Fire Marshal Denies Approving Amusement Park Ride That Injured Two Teens

By Justin Reiff on March 26, 2013 - Comments off

Butch Browning, a Louisiana fire marshal reprimanded for several serious oversights by a 2012 state inspector general’s report, admitted last November to all of his offenses but one: approving a defective amusement park ride. Thanks to this approval, two teenagers, a brother and sister, were thrown from the ride and seriously injured—despite the fact that Browning had been warned about the problem that very night. The accident apparently didn’t faze him. After the state of Louisiana recently paid out $180,000 to the family, all Browning had to say was, “I can’t affect what happens in court settlements and conversations between lawyers.” To him, it was evidently no big deal that children’s lives had been imperiled and a family had been traumatized.

The two teens, a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year old boy, were thrown from a ride called “the Zipper” at a school carnival in Greensburg, Louisiana. As they tried to get off the ride, they were propelled 15 feet into the air, landing on the pavement. Needless to say, this caused very serious injury to both. The ride, in fact, was missing two critical parts—a safety switch and a parking brake. But Browning blamed the accident on “operator error,” claiming that the operator “somehow accidentally activated the boom switch at the ride control panel forcing motion of the ride, at the time the riders were exiting their car.”

Soon after the accident occurred, State Police Col. Mike Edmonson exonerated Browning, contending that the fire marshal’s office was only responsible for a spot safety inspection, which does not require checking the owner’s compliance with manufacturing guidelines. But, the state inspector general’s report of November 13, 2012 disagreed, stating that the fire marshal was indeed responsible for overseeing the inspection of amusement park rides, and that it had mishandled the inspection process. One of Browning’s own investigators, Donald Carter, claims that he warned Browning about the danger, but was told to keep this fact out of his investigative report. And a state inspector, Byron Wade, it turns out, approved the ride’s safety stops—when they had been not only modified, but removed.

Fortunately, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog organization that targets corruption in New Orleans, alerted the Inspector General. Rafael Goyeneche, the president of this commission, claimed that three of the employees of Mac’s Carnivals and Attractions expressed the belief that the accident wouldn’t have occurred if the inspection had been properly handled.

It is clear that the state of Louisiana was negligent in the handling of this case. It is also clear that it went to great lengths to avoid culpability for its extreme negligence. The question is why any person or organization would choose to condone and cover up its total disregard for the safety of park-goers—and, most importantly, children. This is more than a legal issue of liability; it is a moral and ethical issue.

Unfortunately, this type of indifference about the safety of amusement park rides is typical. Most officials simply don’t take the issue of amusement park safety very seriously. Three factors—sorely inadequate federal oversight, a powerful amusement lobby, and a common belief that fun can’t be dangerous—have contributed to a generalized lethargy about the parks that millions of Americans patronize every year. Even when children are killed on amusement park rides, the public shows an odd indifference. The news dies down within days of being reported, and people forget.

It is time for the public to wake up to the dangers of the amusement world. Anything that threatens children’s lives is serious, whether it be guns or ferris wheels. We must all stand firm against the negligence of amusement park operators and ride manufacturers, the indifference of governmental officials, and the self-interest of amusement park lobbyists. We need to recognize that amusement parks are not solely about fun—and that the amusement industry, like all others, requires regulation and warrants public concern.

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Water Slide Accident Results in Permanent Crippling Injuries Rather Than Smiles and Happy “Kodak Moments”

By Justin Reiff on March 20, 2013 - Comments off

Imagine this scenario, a hot summer day and Dad decides to take his family to a well-known national water park for a day of wet fun and adventure. Soon thereafter, the family boards a 4 person raft and is kicked off by the lifeguard to begin their adventure down the water slide into a funnel. Shortly thereafter, the individuals separate from the raft and enter a splash pool face down barely conscious under the water with serious permanent injuries including but not limited to closed head trauma, spinal fractures, fractured mandible, scarring and lacerations, tibia fractures, closed head trauma, contusions, concussion, and multiple hematomas, fractured ribs and aspiration pneumonia. Furthermore, consider the fact that spinal fractures are commonly known and under reported with various versions of the same water slide attraction.

Of course, the owners, operators, and manufacturers of many water slides and water parks express sympathy for the injuries sustained by victims but they will then no doubt attempt to point the finger at the victim(s) claiming that most accidents are their own fault. They claim that the victims assume the risk or were negligent in some unjustified manner. The safe operation of a water slide adventure requires that lifeguards and operators pay close attention to positioning, weight, and size of all occupants. Water park personnel must know or should have known proper loading and riding positions, weight limitations, and safe spatial barriers. While we recognize that many water slides are participatory in nature and involve some degree of risk, as fair paying guests who utilize equipment must pay heed to proper instruction warnings and supervision. Many water slides are enclosed and dark in order to boost the latest thrill factor. Guests have no way of appreciating the risk or dangers involved before the ride. Frankly, I had the fear of my life on an enclosed water slide and have not been on one since.

Amusement park and water park operators will claim that there was a warning posted at the ride. However, one must ask does the warning accurately portray to patrons what the owner or operator knew or should have known about the dangers or dangerous operating conditions associated with the ride. I assure you most probably not. If so many would not even make an attempt to board the attraction. Obviously the riding experience on a water slide is greatly influenced by weight, size, distribution, body shape, and water accumulation as well as the angle. A higher duty may be imposed on the park owner or operator with regard to addressing clients of extreme shapes or sizes. There is certainly no reason that exists to explain why an entire family visiting a water park in a normal and healthy condition, following all rules and instructions known to them, end up with debilitating permanent injuries if the operators of the attraction followed the rules, regulations, and standards of the manufacturer’s safety instructions and provide a reasonably safe environment and properly trained lifeguards and ride operators.

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Amusement Parks, Water Parks, and “Assumption of Risk”: a Sometimes-risky Strategy

By Justin Reiff on March 5, 2013 - Comments off

Amusement park and water park operators customarily build their defense against injury claims around the doctrine of “assumption of risk.” Under ideal circumstances, this defense proves effective in court. However, the circumstances of amusement and water park accidents can be far from ideal, and defendants are often surprised and confounded—certainly not amused—when this doctrine fails to protect them.

The general principle of “assumption of risk” is this: if a patron of a park is made fully aware of the inherent risks involved in going on a ride, then the park is not liable for any injuries that ensue. As long as the park provided adequate signage and warnings, and it can be proven that the injury was not caused by negligence or unforeseen dangers, all is well. However, if something out of the ordinary occurred—for example, the person operating the ride failed to take proper precautions, warnings were inadequate, or the device was not properly maintained—all is not well, and it is the park operator who assumes the risk.

In the case of Atlanta Funtown, Inc. v. Crouch (1966), the court held that “assumption of risk” is highly appropriate “in the case of thrill-seeking patrons of amusement devices, if the facts of the cases demand an application of the doctrine.” The Georgia court thereby asserted that risk is a given in the amusement park realm, and that patrons are—or should be—aware of this risk.

It is this line of thought that gives park operators the idea that they are automatically protected by law. The way they see it, if you are looking for a thrill, you must face the consequences of thrill-seeking—and it is no one’s fault but your own if you happen to hurt yourself. But this “tough luck” attitude doesn’t always work.

According to the law, “. . . if one knowing and comprehending a danger voluntarily exposes oneself to it, though not negligent in doing so, he or she is deemed to have assumed the risk, and is precluded or prevented from recovering from an injury resulting from a danger.” Thus, if the risk of injury is “open and apparent” to a person embarking on an amusement park ride, and the person has voluntarily decided to do so, then he or she assumes the risks of taking the ride, and cannot recover for resulting injuries. However, if the participant does not know how “the risk is increased by unusual circumstances,” the situation becomes problematic.

Consider the case of Holbrook v. Prescott (1983), in which a teenage girl broke her leg on a water slide at Wet Willy’s, an amusement establishment of three water slides. Wet Willy’s cited the Atlanta Funtown case in its defense, arguing that the girl broke her leg because she failed to “exercise ordinary care.” However, the circumstances in this case were highly unusual. The teenager was with a group of friends who wanted to form a “train.” When she expressed her apprehension about this idea, the employee operating the ride assured her that it would be safe, since he would stop the water flow of the slide while the group was assembling itself at the top of the slide. The problem was that, when the attendant turned the water back on, the resulting surge of water caused the “train” to descend at a faster-than-normal speed, thereby creating unexpected danger. Because the girl was not aware of the greater risk that this action would cause, she was entitled to monetary recovery.

Amusement and water park operators who count on being automatically protected from claims against them should beware of their own legal risks. Even though the amusement industry is largely free of federal regulation, those who run parks cannot afford to be lackadaisical. For— just as joyrides can become nightmares for their patrons—a laissez faire approach to safety can cause them nightmares, as well.

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Water Slide Accidents Foreseeable and Preventable, Advises Water Slide and Amusement Safety Advocate

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on December 4, 2012 - Comments off

Most amusement parks present themselves out to the public as an opportunity for safe family fun and entertainment. We like to think of laughter, smiles, and golden “Kodak moments.” As experienced amusement park safety advocates, we understand that a patron’s safety should always be priority number one. However, many national amusement parks continue to operate water slides knowing that they are dangerous due to the lifting of rafts and high pressure impacts on the side or guardrails. Water slide safety is directly affected by water flow, water cushion, ride speed, ride spin, and the size of the patron resulting in how the patron impacts with the surface of the slide and ride.

Our skilled amusement accident experts and advocates have seen certain identical injuries on the same water slide with different “catchy” names throughout the United States, which indicates to us that park management was aware and forewarned of the risk of injuries.

We believe that many water parks continue to allow patrons to use knowingly dangerous water slides, despite known problems, and that they fail to properly assess and address these risks prior to allowing fun seeking patrons to use the slide. Many water slides have a water flow in excess of 2,000 gallons per minute creating a substantial high velocity wave down the tube. Many times the wave can be a few feet high. If a rider impacts a perpendicular flow of water at a high rate of speed in an uncontrolled environment, the patron can be thrown into the rails or even off the ride. If there is a violent impact with the buttocks and lower back of the rider against the solid surface of the slide, it goes without saying that the possibility for burst fractures and possible paralysis exist.

The water flow volume of each water slide is controllable by each individual park and is a critical element of the safety of the slide and it is essential to control the water flow to minimize the size of the wave and possibility of injuries. Improper operation, management, or maintenance of a water slide often results in severe spinal injuries with devastating lifetime consequences.

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Death of Women in Parasailing Accident Leads to Guilty Plea by Captain of Boat

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on November 19, 2012 - Comments off

The U. S. Department of Justice revealed that a 45-year Pennsylvania captain with a boat towing a parasail plead guilty to a maritime negligence in a parasailing accident that killed two women in North Carolina. The 45-year-old boat captain was accused of failing to check the weather before taking his clients out on the parasailing ride which killed 60-year-old Cynthia Woodcock and 45-year-old Lorrie Shoup in August of 2009.

According to authorities, a strong gust of wind blew up while they were in the air being towed, snapping the line connecting the parasail to the tow boat “tied high”. The wind then slammed the women into the ocean and dragged them towards the town’s fishing pier. The women died from blunt force trauma.

If you have ever been a witness to parasailing, it looks like one of the most enjoyable, serene, and calm activities one can imagine. Yet the unimaginable dangers that occur are never really given a second thought. Operating a parasail in adverse weather such as rain, fog, or high wind conditions tremendously increase the risk of a parasailing accident. In fact, it is most likely that wind conditions are far greater at altitude rather than on the ground which most of us never think of.

Unfortunately, many parasailing companies are highly unregulated just like most other businesses who try to maximize profits carrying out operations in weather conditions or with inadequate or unsafe equipment that could potentially lead to a catastrophic parasailing accident.

Remember, you will be debriefed prior to the parasailing ride. However, unless you have an excellent memory and something goes wrong while you are airborne, it is impossible to clearly communicate your status to the crew taking into account that you are hundreds of feet in the air in windy conditions.

As an experienced amusement park accident attorney who has investigated a number of parasailing accidents, I am all too familiar with the dangers of catastrophic injuries and wrongful deaths that occur in this highly unregulated industry.

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Woman Suffers Injuries after Being Thrown from Fun Factory Ride at State Fair of Louisiana

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on November 13, 2012 - Comments off

A woman from Bossier City sustained two spine fractures, a fracture near her hip, and a torn spleen after being thrown off of the Fun Factory ride at the State Fair of Louisiana. According to news reports, she was transported to LSU Hospital for treatment.

The Fun Factory ride is a European version of the conventional U.S. “Tilt-a-Whirl” ride and was brought to the Louisiana fair for the first time this year by Sky Attractions, a subcontractor of Crabtree Amusements. The Fun Factory is manufactured by KMG of the Netherlands and operates on a mechanism that lifts the gondola and spins it at different speeds as the turntable moves.

The Fun Factory ride that the woman was thrown from was closed so that the State Fire Marshal could investigate the accident. They investigated an accident last year at the fair that caused a four-year-old to suffer critical injuries. The child was pinned under a ride that was started accidentally by another child. An investigation revealed that a ride operator had failed to turn on a switch that would have prevented the accident from happening.

Crabtree Amusements was asked to provide fair rides this year so as to prevent similar accidents.

The investigation into the current carnival ride accident is determining whether the woman was injured on the ride from bumping her head, blacking out, and becoming susceptible to being ejected from the ride from her body becoming limp, or whether she was injured from the ejection itself.

Whether enough safety checks of the Fun Factory were conducted, as well as whether ride defects or operator negligence contributed to the injury accident, is yet to be determined.

Carnival ride ejections are serious and may result in life-threatening injuries and fatalities. As more and more consumers are informed about the lack of safety regulations for carnivals, fairs, and fixed amusement parks, the call for change grows louder. Hopefully, more lives won’t have to be endangered for such changes to occur.

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As Zip Line Accidents Continue to Occur, It is Important for Consumers to Understand That Safety and Construction Regulations Are Minimal

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on November 7, 2012 - Comments off

Recently, NBC Connecticut troubleshooters noted something that I have been speaking about for a long time as a concerned consumer safety advocate and amusement park accident attorney. Namely, it is an industry that is mostly self-regulated with little to no oversights and accidents are happening at an ever increasing rate.

As a zip line accident lawyer, one thing is for certain, that there is no one keeping track of how many zip line accidents occur, not even the government. While many are quick to state that zip lines have been in existence for many decades and operators and owners typically self-police, I often find myself on the other side, representing those who are catastrophically injured and unfortunately sometimes killed as a result of a zip line or amusement park accident.

Mostly, it is up to each state to set its own safety regulations and most states do not have many zip line regulations on the books and we are concerned that owners and operators of zip lines may not be conforming with industry standards.

In many of the zip line accidents we have investigated, we noted that equipment and procedures vary greatly and we were recently contacted by riders who have been injured due to faulty equipment.

Last winter when I was visiting the Caribbean on a cruise, zip line adventures were being regularly promoted and when I questioned a local cab driver, I learned that the zip lines were constructed without regulation by a local shop owner on the island who seemingly was putting profitability over the interests of safety. The cab driver told me tales of many accidents advising me and my family to stay away.

I am a firm believer in the saying that “chance favors the prepared man”, and if you really want to take necessary steps of precaution before you board a zip line, ask to see a copy of their inspection report, whether it is a state inspection report or an independent third party report.

As a consumer safety advocate focused on the amusement industry, we will continue to advocate state and federal legislation necessary to keep the amusement and zip line industry safe, and it has been proven that self-policing does not work.

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PA Woman Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit with Cleveland Indians Resulting from an Inflatable Slide Accident

By Jeffrey M. Reiff on October 25, 2012 - Comments off

Nine days after being struck by an inflatable slide outside of Progressive Field, a Pennsylvania man died. A wrongful death settlement was confidential. However, an Ohio Judge ordered the company that set up the slide at a Cleveland Indians event to pay the widow $3.5 million dollars.

The 54-year-old deceased victim was attending a Cleveland Indians baseball game in June of 2010 when the inflatable slide for “a kid’s day of fun” fell on top of him causing him to break three bones in his back. The victim suffered a pulmonary embolism brought on by the fractures and inactivity and his widow sued the Indians, National Pastime Sports, and several others claiming negligence and wrongful death. A default judgment was entered against National Pastime Sports after representatives for the Rochester, Michigan amusement company failed to show up for trial. News reporters attempted to reach the owner of National Pastime who did not return phone calls.

According to news sources, National Pastime owned the inflatable slide amusement attraction and was responsible for setting it up, according to an attorney for the slide manufacturer, Scherba Industries. It was alleged that National Pastime Sports failed to properly secure the slide causing it to topple over under the weight of 7 to 9 children gathered near the corner of the slide. The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which inspects amusement rides, cited National Pastime for operating the ride in an unsafe and negligent manner. The inflatable slide accident was captured by security cameras.

Additionally, it was alleged that Scherba did not provide adequate warnings or instructions for setting up the slide which allegations were denied by the company.

As experienced amusement park accident attorneys, we have understood for a long time that inflatables, while appearing to be seemingly innocuous and innocent, are often the source of some of the deadliest and most catastrophic accidents imaginable. With very little state and federal regulations, consumers do not always understand the risks of injuries or death.

As an inflatable accident attorney, I have been accused by park owners and operators as well as by many thrill seekers of taking the fun out of life. However, we believe that we perform a service to many parents and children who don’t recognize that there are extraordinary risks of danger and harm that accompany an inflatable amusement attraction when it is improperly maintained, inspected, or operated by individuals who may have had improper training or other deficient factors contributing to liability.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the widow and family of the victim in this case, and we hope that the verdict sends a wakeup call to others in the amusement and entertainment industry.

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  • Most Amusement Ride Accidents Occur
    at the Load and Unload Position  Read More »
  • Do Amusement Parks Need Federal Oversight?  Read More »
  • Louisiana State Fire Marshal Denies Approving Amusement Park Ride That Injured Two Teens  Read More »
  • Water Slide Accident Results in Permanent Crippling Injuries Rather Than Smiles and Happy “Kodak Moments”  Read More »
  • Amusement Parks, Water Parks, and “Assumption of Risk”: a Sometimes-risky Strategy  Read More »

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