The search for fun at amusement parks often results in painful injuries -- especially in California, home to Disneyworld and many other attractions. In early July, three people were injured at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo when the metal gate on a tram carrying people from the parking lot sprang open. The accident caused a protruding leg injury to an adult and a stomach cut to a toddler, and both injuries required emergency treatment.
How prevalent are amusement park injuries in California and across the country? Getting a precise number is difficult because of a legal irregularity known as the "roller coaster loophole." By federal law, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is not permitted to regulate the safety of rides that are fixed at a certain site. The CPSC can regulate carnivals and other mobile attractions, as well as the manner ride equipment is manufactured. But the CPSC is not allowed to regulate the operation of the ride equipment at fixed-site parks.
Big parks like Disneyland therefore fall outside of the CPSC's jurisdiction, making good data about injuries there hard to come by. Nonetheless, according to CPSC estimates based on surveys of hospital emergency rooms, as many as 7,000 people are injured nationally every year in amusement parks, and an average of four people die every year.
What are the legal responsibilities that amusement park operators owe to the people who visit? In the absence of comprehensive federal regulation, a particular park's obligation to its customers often depends on state or even municipal law. Common law notions of premises liability are also in play. In California, this means that amusement park owners and operators have a clear duty of care to the people who visit there.
Regardless of which word is used for amusement park visitors -- guest, invitee or some other term -- the park proprietors have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep the park premises safe.
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