Amusement Ride Safety in Pennsylvania
September 29, 2017
In August 2016, a 3-year-old boy was ejected from his seat while riding the Rollo Coaster ride at Idlewild & SoakZone, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. The boy suffered serious injuries in the accident, and state officials closed the ride and launched an investigation.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Division of Amusement Rides and Attractions oversees the safe operation of rides. Ride operators must register with the division every year – annually, about 800 ride owners register 10,000 rides. Those “rides” include giant roller coasters at Hersheypark, The Parx Liberty Carousel in Franklin Square, water slides, trampoline parks – it’s a lot to cover, for the division’s 1,400 licensed inspectors.
Walter Bremmert, director of the Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the bureau estimates people took about 10 million rides in Pennsylvania in 2016; of those rides, 827 resulted in injuries.
Accident Raises Ride Safety Concerns
On July 26, an amusement ride at the Ohio State Fair killed one man and injured seven others, when it flung passengers to the ground. Just hours before the opening-day accident, ride inspectors had affirmed the ride was safe to operate.
The ride – called the Fire Ball – features a long beam that swings back and forth, with riders suspended at the base of the beam in a rotating, inward-facing circle. The circle is comprised of six cars, or gondolas. The Ohio State Highway Patrol released the results of the accident investigation in August and reported the details of what transpired:
- Before the ride started, the operator moved a passenger to a different gondola that had larger seats, because he was too large for the other gondola’s seats; three other passengers also moved to that gondola.
- Witnesses who had been seated in other gondolas said the ride operator had difficulty securing the safety harnesses in that gondola; one witness told police the ride operator said, “Oh well, you will be all right.”
- Two people, including the man who died, were thrown from the ride.
- The gondola in which they had been seated then broke loose, injuring the other two passengers as it fell to the ground; in all, seven people were taken to hospitals for treatment of their injuries (one passenger in another car said that as the woman who was ejected from her seat hurtled to the ground, her foot struck him in the head).
The ride manufacturer conducted its own investigation and determined that excessive corrosion on the 18-year-old ride’s support beam is what caused the gondola to detach.
The accident prompted regulators in Ohio and elsewhere to shut down any pendulum-type rides similar to the Fire Ball. Pennsylvania has no such rides registered and put a temporary ban on registration for any new pendulum rides. In New Jersey, amusement park Morey’s Piers announced it had shut down its two pendulum rides, and the operators in charge of the Monmouth County Fair shut down a similar ride.
Aging Rides a Concern
Like the Fire Ball ride, Idlewild’s Rollo Coaster is an old ride – it debuted in 1938. Older rides may lack the safety feature of new rides or suffer from defects that aren’t apparent until an accident happens.
The boy who was ejected from the Rollo Coaster, investigators found, was improperly seated and didn’t meet height requirements. But the accident might have been avoided if the coaster cars had been outfitted with secondary safety restraints. The state ordered Idlewild to make safety improvements before reopening the ride, including adding secondary passenger restraints. Idlewild then bought new coaster cars to conform with the state’s orders.
If you have any questions about this topic or believe that a faulty amusement ride caused your injuries, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-LAW-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.