Ferris Wheel Lawsuits Highlight Lack of Amusement Park Ride Regulations

October 24, 2017


Lawsuits have been filed against an amusement ride company and its owners alleging a faulty Ferris wheel injured three young children, one critically at a Tennessee county fair in August 2016. Police said the three kids fell 30 – 45 feet when their seat flipped over.


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) identified a bent skid plate and damaged rivets to the gondolas. State inspector said that the ride had a mechanical failure and was not safe to operate. The defendants deny responsibility saying that the gondola overturned because one of the injured children stood and rocked it. Police found no evidence to confirm the defendant’s allegation.

The lawsuits ask for a jury trial, compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages. Jury trials are set for February 2019.


The accident occurred during the same week as at least four major injuries reported at amusement parks nationwide, including the deadly decapitation of a 10-year-old boy on the giant Verrückt waterslide in Kansas.


Since 2010, the CPSC reports that there have been 22 fatalities caused by thrill rides, and an estimated 30,900 injuries in 2016 alone.


When amusement park rides first appeared in the United States they were under the jurisdiction of the CPSC. The rules were changed in 1981 after pressure from industry leaders. Now the agency regulates how rides are manufactured and is also responsible for overseeing and investigating injuries at traveling carnivals and temporary rides at county fairs, but it doesn't conduct inspections. That’s up to individual states, and rules vary widely. While some states are diligent and inspect rides every time they are set up in a new location, others only inspect them once a year.


After this accident and another a month later at a Memphis fair, Tennessee passed tougher regulations. The new law went into effect this past May and requires inspections by a qualified inspector at least once a year and the results must be reported to the state.


I commends the state of Tennessee on this new law; it’s time for other states to do the same. Patchwork regulations just don’t cut it anymore. Is it time the federal government to regain oversight of the industry? What do you think?

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