12 Children Injured in Conn. Amusement Ride Accident
An amusement park swing ride at the Norwalk Oyster Festival in Connecticut came to an unexpected and abrupt halt on Sept. 8, injuring 18 riders, a dozen of them children.
Inspections and Investigations
The festival included a traveling assortment of amusement rides, including a giant swing ride called the Zumur, on which riders are seated individually in swings attached to a central point by chains. In this case, the ride suddenly stopped, resulting in the riders swinging wildly out of control and into each other and the structure of the ride.
Eighteen people, mostly children according to a local news station, were hurt, and thirteen were taken to the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening, and the last patient, an 8-year-old boy, was released the following day.
Another local news report said that all but one of the 24 seats on the ride were occupied at the time of the incident.
The owner of the ride, Trumbull, Conn.-based Stewart Amusement, has been in business for nearly 30 years, supplying rides for carnivals and festivals in Connecticut and New York.
The company’s owner, Richard Bruce Stewart, told the media that the ride didn’t lose power, and that it had been inspected that morning as part of the daily procedures of the ride operators, as well as before the festival started by state police.
Stewart also told the CBS affiliate that the manufacturers of the Zumur are taking it apart to find out what happened. The Connecticut fire marshal and the state police are also reportedly conducting investigations.
Negligence Claims Possible
While no legal claims have been filed yet, they certainly could be. “There are often lawsuits after amusement ride accidents, typically sounding in negligence, alleging that someone in the chain failed to act with reasonable care under the circumstances,” says Bill Childs, senior counsel with Bowman and Brooke LLP in Austin, Texas.
Even though no one appears to have been seriously hurt, parents could seek to have their kids’ hospital charges covered. “Damages would probably be driven by medical bills and perhaps pain and suffering, if applicable,” notes Childs, who practices products liability and other tort law.
There are several potential defendants in cases like this one, he says, but any suit would depend heavily on the facts, many of which remain unavailable at this point.
“One could imagine a negligence/design defect claim against a manufacturer,” hypothesizes Childs. In such a claim, he says, the plaintiff would argue that a more reasonable or better design could have prevented injuries by preventing sudden stops or impacts during an emergency stop.
Plaintiffs could also bring “a more ordinary negligence claim against the owner/operator,” Childs says, “arguing that the injuries were the result of flawed or incomplete maintenance or operation.”
Finally, and “much more rarely,” he says, “ride inspectors have been sued for failing to find flaws in rides.” Such claims are rare because government inspectors – the police in this case – enjoy broad immunity from such suits.
Inspections are important, and because this ride had allegedly been inspected at least twice before it started up for the day, that would help any defendant in this situation.
“Inspections are certainly evidence of non-negligence,” Childs says. “I’m not aware of any case in which a lawsuit has been found preempted entirely by the fact of inspection,” he adds, “but absolutely a defendant would want to emphasize its inspection and maintenance programs.”
Parents concerned about the safety of rides can mostly rely on inspectors to do their jobs. “Amusement rides are, as a general matter, extremely safe, whether in fixed-site parks or traveling carnivals,” Childs observes. “Parks and carnivals have a strong incentive to keep them safe; that’s the foundation of their business.”
But it never hurts, he adds, to do your own quick visual inspection of the area around the ride you put your kid on, and to make sure the ride operator is attentive.
“When I go to parks or carnivals with my kids, I personally look to see if the rides and adjoining structures appear well-kept,” Childs says. “My dad was an electrochemist and would discuss how much you could tell about a researcher based on their bench: if it was neat and well-kept, they were likely careful in the rest of their work as well.”