When someone is injured in an amusement park accident, the victim and their family can file a personal injury claim. Damages in an amusement park personal injury lawsuit can include:
If a child or other family member is killed in a roller coaster accident, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit for damages, including funeral expenses and loss of supporting income.
Amusement park accidents can include slip and fall injuries, stair accidents, drowning accidents, food poisoning, or being thrown from a roller coaster. The amusement park, park employees, or other visitors may be liable to the injury victim for damages.
Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about amusement park accidents and roller coaster injury lawsuits:
- 1. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured at an amusement park?
- 2. Who is responsible for the amusement park or roller coaster accident?
- 3. What damages can I recover after an amusement park accident?
- 4. What happens if the amusement park said I assumed the risk of injury?
- 5. Victims can get damages even if they were partly responsible for causing the accident.
- 6. Amusement Park Lawsuit Jury Verdicts and Settlements
If you have further questions about roller coaster accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
When someone is injured at an amusement park, the park itself may be liable for the injuries and damages. Amusement park injury victims can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible to get money damages for their injuries.
Park owners have a duty to provide a safe environment for customers. Roller coaster designers also have a duty to make sure their rides are not defective or dangerous. When park owner and designers violate these duties, they may be liable for damages.
Amusement park accident lawsuits may be based on the following causes of action:
- Premises Liability,
- Vicarious Liability,
- Product Defect Liability, or
- Intentional Torts.
Individuals or companies who violate their duty of care which causes an injury may be liable for negligence. In order to win damages in a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove the following:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty of care through negligence;
- The breach was a cause of the plaintiff's injuries; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant's negligence.1
Anyone liable for an amusement park or roller coaster accident may be responsible to the victim for damages. In an amusement park accident, there may be multiple parties who are responsible damages.
Possible defendants in an amusement park accident lawsuit may include:
- Amusement park owner or operator,
- Amusement park parent company,
- Amusement park employees,
- Food or drink vendors,
- Security guards,
- Park supervisors or managers,
- Safety inspectors,
- The park's insurance company,
- Another customer or patron of the amusement park,
- Shuttle drivers,
- Third-parties who contract with the park for goods and services,
- Ride operators,
- Roller coaster engineers, or
- Roller coaster equipment and parts manufacturers.
When an amusement park employee causes an accident, the employee may be liable for damages. However, under “Respondeat Superior” laws, the employer may also be liable for the employee's negligence.2
This means that if an employee does something that causes an accident, the employer is also held responsible. In an amusement park accident lawsuit, the amusement park can be liable for the employee's negligence if the plaintiff can show the following:
- The plaintiff was harmed as a result of the employee's negligence; and
- The company is responsible for the injuries because the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the accident occurred.3
The park or other employer may also be held directly liable if the park failed to properly train or supervise the employee. The plaintiff could file a lawsuit against the employer based on negligent hiring, negligent training, or negligent supervision.4
Property owners are required to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. Under premises liability laws, amusement park owners and operators owe the public a duty of care to:
- Maintain their property in a safe condition;
- Repair dangerous conditions;
- Follow state and local safety regulations; and
- Warn visitors about known hazards.
Amusement park owners are responsible for maintaining the property, including rides, the places where customers wait in line, food service areas, benches, and parking lots.
If a patron is injured by dangerous conditions within the park, the property owner may be liable for damages. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to show:
- The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
- The plaintiff was harmed;
- The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.5
Safety conditions that may cause an injury in an amusement park include:
- Broken concrete and sidewalks,
- Slippery and wet surfaces,
- Uneven surfaces,
- Torn carpeting,
- Bad lighting,
- Broken handrails,
- Blocked walkways,
- Broken ride restraints,
- Broken benches,
- Lack of instructions for riders,
- Food spills in dining areas, and
- Lack of warnings.
Crowded environments, like amusement parks, can cause people to lose their tempers. When an argument or fight breaks out at an amusement park, another park customer may assault an innocent victim.
Assault and battery are crimes but they can also be the basis for a civil lawsuit for damages. Anyone who is the victim of an unprovoked threat or use of force may be able to sue the aggressor for damages.
Recklessness of another customer may also be the cause of an amusement park accident, even if the customer did not intend to harm someone.
The park may also be liable for injuries caused by another person, even by a customer. If the park was not enforcing safety policies, for example, by not kicking out a drunk or violent patron, the park may have failed in their duty to keep the park safe for others. When the park violates their duty of care, the park may be liable for injuries caused by another customer.
If a rider is injured because of a defective roller coaster, he or she may not know who was to blame. However, product liability claims have “strict liability” for manufacturers, designers, or sellers. The plaintiff does not have to show that the seller or manufacturer was negligent, only that the roller coaster was defective.
Defective roller coaster product liability claims can be based on:
Defendants in product liability claims can include the roller coaster designer, parts manufacturer, or roller coaster product distributor. In a roller coaster product liability claim, the plaintiff has to show the following:
- The defendant manufactured, distributed, or sold the defective product;
- The product contained a manufacturing, design, or warning defect when it left the defendant's possession;
- The victim suffered harm; and
- The product defect was a substantial factor in causing the victim's harm.67
Example: Zach is riding the Flimsy Flyer roller coaster. At the top of a loop, Zach's restraint falls open and Zach falls out of the ride. Zach suffers a spinal injury and is paralyzed from the neck down. Zach files a lawsuit against the amusement park and the roller coaster restraint manufacturer.
The manufacturer claims they were not negligent and it must have been someone elses fault. However, an engineering expert testifies that the restraint had a design defect that would allow the restraint to open during the ride. The manufacturer may be strictly liable for Zach's injuries because the restraint was defective.
Compensatory damages are available to compensate an injury victim in a personal injury lawsuit. Damages provide for the financial costs of an injury, as well as the non-economic costs of the accident. Damages in an amusement park accident may include:
- Medical bills,
- ER treatment,
- Physical therapy,
- Emotional harm,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earnings,
- Loss of consortium,
- Compensation for scars or disfigurement, and
- Pain and suffering.
In some situations, punitive damages, or exemplary damages, may also be available. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and prevent the defendants from doing something similar in the future.8
When a roller coaster accident is fatal, the family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit because the victim is not able to hold the defendant responsible.9 Certain family members can file a claim for damages, including:
- Funeral and burial expenses,
- Financial losses, and
- Compensation for the loss of companionship and support.
“Assumption of the risk” is a legal doctrine which shifts liability for an accident to the person who engaged in an inherently risky activity. The amusement park may claim a roller coaster is an “inherently risky activity,” and try and avoid responsibility for the accident.10
However, even if a roller coaster does have some level of risk, the defendants may still be liable for the accident. For example, the defendant may be liable because the defendant:
- Violated state safety laws or regulations;
- Increased the risk to the plaintiff over and above the inherent risks, or
- Failed to properly warn riders about the risks.
Even if the victim was partly responsible for the accident, he or she may still be eligible to receive compensation. Under comparative fault laws, the jury can determine if multiple people were at fault for the accident. The jury can also divide up fault among the parties involved, including a percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff.11
Example: Hans is riding the Pirates of the Barbary Coast ride at Mortimer Land. Hans really likes the ride and wanted to get off the ride and take a selfie with some of the pirate skeletons and their piles of gold and treasure. Hans intentionally did not secure his safety restraint. The ride employees did not check if Hans' restraint was secured and start the boat ride.
During the ride, Hans stood up to get off the boat where he could get a picture with the pirates. When he stepped off the boat, he slipped and fell into the water, hitting his head on the edge of the ride. Hans required medical attention and filed a lawsuit for $10,000 in damages.
A jury finds that Hans was 20% responsible for the accident and the park is 80% responsible because they did not have better safety restraint systems and checks. Hans may be awarded $8,000 in damages from the park (80% of $10,000 = $8,000).
- A U.S. Army veteran who lost his legs in Iraq was killed when he was ejected from a roller coaster at Darien Lake, New York, in 2011. The family settled their claim for an undisclosed 7-figure amount.
- In 2016, a 10-year-old boy was decapitated on a hybrid roller coaster/water slide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. The boy's family received a settlement offer of almost $20 million dollars.
- The lack of head and neck support on the Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island caused an Arizona woman to suffer permanent injuries. The victim was paid $600,000 for her injuries after a jury verdict.
- A park guest at Walt Disney World in Florida suffered back injuries when he was rear-ended at the Grand Prix Raceway ride in 1995. A jury awarded the victim more than $840,000 for his injuries.
- A roller coaster rider suffered permanent injuries when he was thrown from a roller coaster at Darien Lake, New York. The plaintiff eventually settled the case for $2.85 million.
- A 52-year-old woman was killed when she fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster in Arlington, Texas in 2013. The family settled a lawsuit with Six Flag Entertainment, other Six Flags entities, and Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, a German roller coaster company.
Call us for help...
For questions about amusement park accidents or to discuss your roller coaster injury case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. For cases in Nevada, see our article on lawsuits for roller coaster accidents in Nevada.
We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
- See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3701 -- Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal--Essential Factual Elements. See also Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291, 296–297 (“The rule of respondeat superior is familiar and simply stated: an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment.“)
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 426 -- Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee. See also Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054 (“California case law recognizes the theory that an employer can be liable to a third person for negligent hiring, supervising, or retaining an unﬁt employee.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. See also Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358.
- Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3940 - Punitive Damages. See also California Civil Code § 3294 (“(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”)
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
- See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 408 on Primary Assumption of Risk.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“... you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”).