The not-so-amusing side of amusement park rides

Visitors to amusement parks get thrills and chills from the roller coasters and other rides. But these venues can be anything but amusing if you're injured and you're facing insurance issues.

However, representatives of amusement parks point out these forms of entertainment are safe if consumers know the rules at each venue and follow them religiously. But before taking on an active hobby such as touring amusement parks, check to see whether your health insurance and disability insurance coverage is up to snuff, says Jerry Becerra, president of Barbary Insurance Brokerage Inc. in San Francisco.

insurance amusement parks The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions maintains the chance of being seriously injured on a ride at an amusement park is one in 9 million, says David Mandt, a spokesman for the association.

An association report shows that in 2009, there were 1,086 injuries at amusement parks, down from 1,343 in 2008.

“More than 300 million people safely enjoy visiting parks in the United States each year, and injuries are rare,” Mandt says.

Insurance for amusement parks

In most states, amusement parks are required to carry liability insurance, says Tony Caravella, an agent with Risk Insurance Services LLC, which provides insurance to amusement parks. He sells policies to amusement parks ranging from $5 million to $50 million, depending on the size of the park.

“Normally, if a park is large enough, they want to have protection -- God forbid if something happens,” he says.

An amusement park’s insurance policy will pay out if an accident occurs and the insurer determines the accident was the park's fault.

“If you slip and fall on your own because your shoes were unlaced, then it’s your fault,” Caravella says. “If the equipment wasn’t properly taken care of, then it’s a determination made by the insurance company.”

It’s also important that consumers follow all of the park’s rules because the amusement park’s lawyers will try to prove a patron's own negligence caused any injuries, says Elyce Schweitzer, an attorney in Lake Mary, Fla.

But even though amusement parks do carry insurance, Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety consultant with KRM Consulting in Richmond, Va., cautions that a lawsuit usually must be filed before the amusement park will pay out. Martin has testified for both plaintiffs and amusement park operators in several court cases.

“If you get injured, you can just forget about the amusement park picking up your tab,” Martin says. “Even if the amusement park is grossly negligent, you’ll have to sue.”

Ugly court battle

For instance, the California Department of Industrial Relations sent a 98-page condemnation letter to the owners of a Yo-Yo ride that crashed May 16, 2008, at the Calaveras County Fair. State officials determined the ride wasn’t properly maintained by the company, leading to an accident involving 23 riders.

Attorney Robert Allard of San Jose, Calif., law firm Corsiglia McHahon & Allard battled for more than two years until finally getting a settlement of $3.375 million on behalf of his clients.

Allard’s investigation showed that the ride’s maker, Chance Rides Manufacturing Inc., was aware of a similar crash that happened two years earlier involving the same type of ride and the same type of broken parts.

One of Allard's clients in this case was a high school student who has permanent brain damage from injuries suffered in the accident. She’s able to take high school courses but has an aide helping her all during the school day.

“The whole ride crashed, and it dragged them on the ground like rag dolls. It’s discouraging that it took us so long for our clients,” Allard says.

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Chance Rides voluntarily recalled 85 YO-YO amusement rides across the country in October 2008 to inspect and repair them.

Keeping it safe

Industry officials maintain that consumers can safely enjoy rides at amusement parks by following these tips from the National Safety Council:

• Obey the rules. One of the biggest mistakes that park visitors make is they ignore posted signs. For example, if a sign says someone must be a certain height or weight to go on a ride, follow those guidelines.

• Dress comfortably, but avoid open-toed shoes and dangling clothing or jewelry.

• Adhere to a normal diet, and drink plenty of water on hot days.

• Pay attention to health notices that caution people not to go on a ride if they’ve got back problems, neck problems or other health conditions.

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