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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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