Chavez v. Cedar Fair – Amusement Park Injury Weighed

Carnivals and amusement parks have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, as injuries mount and the industry remains poorly-regulated.
Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees how amusement park rids are manufactured, there is no federal agency in charge of regulating how they are set up, maintained are operated. This is left to the states, and the rules vary widely.

North Carolina has stiffer regulations than most. N.C. Gen. Code. 95.111.1-18 provides guidance on how amusement devices are designed, constructed, assembled, disassembled, maintained and operated so as to prevent injuries.

Our Asheville injury lawyers know the regulations are extensive, but they don’t apply to: Devices operated on a river, wavepools, roller skating rinks, ice skating rinks, skateboard courses or ramps, mechanical bulls, laser games, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, mopeds, stationary rock walls, zip-lines, fun houses (including haunted houses) or playground equipment. This is not to say operators of these facilities can’t be held liable for injuries resulting from use, but their regulation doesn’t fall under the purview of the North Carolina Elevator and Amusement Division, ultimately overseen by the North Carolina Department of Labor.

Those injured at amusement parks in other states may be at a disadvantage, as there are fewer regulatory protections in place. Take, for example, the case of Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP involving the serious injury of a 12-year-old girl on a ride in Missouri.

According to court records, the incident occurred in 2000, when the girl traveled to an “Oceans of Fun” park in Kansas City with relatives, and chose to ride a water raft ride, which consisted of a 680-foot-long slide with a 71-foot drop and several twists and turns. A warning indicated passengers should hold onto the straps at all times. Attendants also verbally instructed passengers to hold onto the straps.

While on the ride, plaintiff’s mouth collided with her cousin’s head, causing her braces to be pushed up into her gums and a front tooth to be knocked out. The injuries required extensive dental work, the removal of more teeth and the use of dentures.

At trial, there was conflicting testimony about whether plaintiff or her cousin or both let go of the raft’s safety strap.

Jurors ultimately decided for plaintiff, awarding $250,000. However, defendant appealed on grounds jurors were not instructed as to comparative fault (i.e., plaintiff’s role in causing her own injuries), and also jurors were not properly instructed as to the definition of negligence (they were asked whether defendant used the “highest degree of care,” as opposed to a “reasonable degree of care”).

The state supreme court agreed, reversed and remanded for new trial.

Of course, the idea of regulation on these types of rides is to prevent them from happening in the first place. It’s worth noting that six states have no regulation at all when it comes to amusement rides, and nine only have partial oversight.

Recently, South Carolina officials announced they will be updating the ride inspection process, and will soon begin requiring state auditors to review those inspections.

Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP, Nov. 12, 2014, Missouri Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
One Year Later: North Carolina State Fair Accident Victims Still Recovering, Oct. 28, 2014, Asheville Injury Lawyer Blog

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