Who’s liable if you’re hurt on a carnival ride? It depends on the case

4 things you won't want to miss at the 2016 Western Idaho Fair

The Western Idaho Fair opened Friday, Aug. 19, at noon. There's plenty to do and see. Here are four things you definitely won't want to miss, and deals to take advantage of.
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The Western Idaho Fair opened Friday, Aug. 19, at noon. There's plenty to do and see. Here are four things you definitely won't want to miss, and deals to take advantage of.

Before the Western Idaho Fair opens at noon Friday, its carnival rides will have undergone four days of inspections to ensure their safety.

John Dodson — an independent ride inspector not connected with the fair nor carnival operator Butler Amusements — was responsible for giving his OK for each of the 45 rides. Butler officials will also inspect the rides daily through the end of the nine-day fair in Garden City. It’s the same procedure the fair follows every summer.

Dodson is one of the owners of Florida-based Comspeq Consulting and has been inspecting carnival rides since 1986. He also rides each ride, so he’s familiar with how they operate.

Fair Director Bob Batista said Thursday afternoon he was waiting for Dodson’s report, but hadn’t heard of any issues.

“So far, so good from what I can tell,” Batista said.

New scrutiny of park rides

Carnival and amusement park rides and water slides are receiving close national examination following major amusement-ride accidents in recent weeks.

A 10-year-old boy was killed after being thrown from a raft at a Kansas City, Kan., water park. Three girls were injured after falling out of a Ferris wheel in Tennessee. A 3-year-old boy fell out of a roller coaster in Pennsylvania and on Tuesday, six people were injured after receiving an electric shock from a ride at a Connecticut park.

Closer to home, a 50-year-old man riding the Octopus at the Canyon County Fair July 29 was thrown off after he tried to stand up on the ride; occupants have to remain seated.

The Western Idaho Fair has not experienced any carnival ride accidents or other safety issues during the 17 years Batista has worked there.

However, Oregon-based Butler — the carnival operator for all those years — has been involved in several mishaps in California. A 6-year-old boy fell 90 feet to his death in 2006 at the San Joaquin County Fair when he crawled out of a Ferris wheel gondola after being placed in the car by himself. And the company was fined $101,250 by Cal/OSHA in 2014 after a ride operator continued conducting rides after key bolts and cross bracing were removed from two rides at the Big Fresno Fair.

What if I’m hurt? Is the ride operator at fault?

Rulings in a pair of lawsuits filed more than a dozen years ago against Roaring Springs Water Park in Meridian show that both ride operators and riders share responsibility for staying safe.

Meridian resident Marlena Hoffman sued the park in 2003 after she broke her tailbone in two places while riding the U-shaped Avalanche. As the raft reached the bottom, Hoffman felt a violent jerk and “significant” pain to her buttocks.

She claimed the park failed to adequately instruct her on the position needed to ride safely. The park said Hoffman ignored instructions and warnings on nine signs she passed in approaching the ride. The signs advised riders to keep their bottoms from touching the slide and to keep their chins tucked to their chests.

Fourth District Judge Michael McLaughlin ruled for Roaring Springs, saying there was no evidence the slide was unsafe nor that warnings were inadequate.

“The mere occurrence of injury does not give rise to a presumption or inference of negligence,” McLaughlin wrote in his decision.

Hoffman appealed the case to the Idaho Supreme Court; she and Roaring Springs reached an undisclosed settlement before the high court took up the case.

But parks can’t easily absolve all liability

In another suit against Roaring Springs, a judge found that the water park could not waive liability simply by telling patrons on the back of their admission ticket that “you are participating at your own risk.”

Tracy Solberg, a Chandler, Ariz., resident, waited for an attendant to tell her to enter a darkened tube at the start of the Rattlesnake Rapids ride in June 1999. Laying on her back and headed feet-first, Chandler ran into another rider who had sat up and stopped, in violation of the rules. Because of the darkness, Solberg didn’t know there was anyone there until she struck the woman.

Solberg’s toes and feet were hurt. In her suit, she said park employees should have made sure the previous rider finished before allowing Solberg to enter.

The park said it was not liable, pointing to the liability waiver on the ticket. But 4th District Judge Cheri Copsey ruled Solberg couldn’t be liable for her injuries unless she knew or should have known the ride was dangerous and there was a possibility of injury. There was no evidence to support that, the judge said.

To escape liability, Roaring Springs would need to have every guest sign a written waiver or agree orally they were assuming all risk for using the park’s slides, Copsey wrote in her decision.

“(Roaring Springs) is responsible for its own negligence,” Copsey wrote.

The two sides later reached an undisclosed settlement before the case went to trial.

Roaring Springs added a lifeguard chair at the top of the ride and changed its dispatch procedures for sending the next rider in because of the issues raised in the lawsuit.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

Tips to keep you safe on carnival rides

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, an industry group based in Virginia, most carnival and amusement park injuries are caused by riders not following posted safety rules or by riding with a pre-existing medical condition. The association offers these safety tips:

▪  Obey listed age, height, weight, and health restrictions.

▪  Observe all posted ride safety rules, and follow all verbal instructions given by ride operators or provided by recorded announcements.

▪  Keep hands, arms, legs and feet inside the ride at all times.

▪  Secure all loose articles, including wallets, change, sunglasses, cell phones and hats.

▪  Do not board a ride impaired.

▪  Remain seated in the ride until it comes to a complete stop and you are instructed to exit.

▪  Always use safety equipment provided and never attempt to wriggle free of or loosen restraints or other safety devices.

▪  Parents should make sure their children can understand and follow safe and appropriate ride behavior.

▪  Never force anyone, especially children, to ride attractions they don’t want to ride.

▪  If you see any unsafe behavior or condition on a ride, report it to a supervisor or manager immediately.