Viral video this weekend shows a 14-year-old girl falling 30 feet off an amusement park ride in upstate New York.
Witnesses are heard screaming “her neck is stuck” and “they’ll catch you, honey” moments before she fell into the arms of visitors and security personnel. Local news reports indicate a man who tried to catch the girl was injured. Some local news reports say the girl who fell was “seriously injured,” while others say she was not.
The fall occurred Saturday night at Six Flags Great Escape near Lake George Village. The amusement park traces its roots back to the 1950s.
I grew up not terribly far from this amusement park and have been on the ride in question many times. It’s called the “sky ride,” and it’s among the park’s longtime attractions. (Wikipedia claims it dates to 1994, but that number seems way off to me; it might have been redesigned or rebuilt that year, though.) It’s basically a slow-speed gondola ride — picture a ski tow, but with very little elevation change — which carries amusement-goers in open-air canopied seats above the park’s other (and obviously lower) attractions. The gondolas are suspended by heavy steel cables above the park. I don’t recall it being necessarily scary or dangerous, and indeed, and every ride inspected at Six Flags Great Escape passed its most `recent state inspection (though nothing labeled “sky ride” appears in the list of rides actually inspected).
While my thoughts go out to the girl who fell, with sincere hope she recovers, you’re probably visiting LawNewz.com to see whether she has a case.
Amusement parks are not immune from personal injury lawsuits. Indeed, the park in question has been sued before (case 1, case 2) for injuries to park-goers, though a quick review of New York State appellate court cases suggests suits are infrequent given the high attendance volume at the park.
Generally speaking, amusement parks can be sued for negligence, including failing to maintain equipment, failing to warn riders of risks, failing to train the operators of rides, and providing incorrect instructions to riders.
Amusement parks can also face products liability lawsuits for rides with defective designs or construction techniques.
However, amusement park operators have defenses, including assumption of the risk (e.g., ‘you got on the bumper cars because you wanted to be struck, and you knew full well being struck could hurt you’), disclaimers on tickets (which are very popular in sports venues like hockey rinks and baseball stadiums, just in case a slapshot or a foul ball takes out your front teeth), and failing to adhere to instructions. This last defense is a biggie: If you aren’t tall enough to ride that ride, don’t go on it; if there’s a safety bar in place, don’t remove it.
Different sets of rules oftentimes apply to ski areas: Many states have adopted statutes such as this one, which prevent recovery against ski resorts from injuries sustained on the slopes. So if the girl’s family decides to sue, it might be a tough but not impossible case. We need more of the facts on this one, but a lawsuit certainly can’t be ruled out.
The Great Escape told local reporters that “there does not appear to be any malfunction of the ride, but we have closed the attraction until a thorough review can be completed.”
UPDATE, June 28 — Local press reports indicate the girl has been released from the hospital. Her family has hired an attorney and is refusing to cooperate with the sheriff’s department.
[Screengrab via YouTube]