Lawmakers in a number of states are taking a closer look at the regulation of amusement park and carnival rides. Although the Federal Trade Commission regulates the manufacture of these rides, it's up to the states to see they're properly operated and maintained. Regulation varies a great deal among the states. Six states don't even bother.
This summer a number of deadly accidents at amusement parks have brought the issue into focus. In some cases the rides malfunctioned. In other cases riders fell or were thrown from rides that seemed to be operating properly. Amusement park rides are supposed to be thrilling and even scary. It's up to state health and safety officials to see that the rides leave you with a good thrill - and not a bunch of broken bones or tragic personal loss and grief.
- In 2010, Florida limited parents' right to sue if their child is hurt on an amusement ride
- "Waivers of liability" are used all across the US in all sorts of businesses
- Understand what you're signing or waiving before your child gets on a ride
When it comes to amusement and theme parks, and other businesses offering thrill rides, you may have to waive some of your rights to sue if your child is hurt on a ride.
Florida's New Law
In April 2010, Florida passed a new law restoring the right of businesses to ask for a "waiver of liability" before letting customers on various types of amusement or theme park rides. The law's primary effect is on children and minors: Parents must sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the business or park if the child is hurt while on a ride.
What kind of rides? Technically, it could be any ride at all, but you'll likely be asked to sign a waiver for things like horseback rides, go-cart racing or other automotive-related activities, and boat rentals, just to name of few.
The new law is the result of negotiations between business owners and lawyers that began in 2008. That's when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that parental waivers of liability or responsibility weren't legal under Florida law. In that case, a 14-year-old boy was killed in an ATV accident at a motor sports park.
His father had signed a waiver. In a wrongful death suit filed by the boy's estate, the waiver was thrown out because nothing in Florida law allowed a parent to waive liability or a allowed business to ask for a waiver.
Many people, including the state senator who sponsored the law, don't think the new law does enough. That's because the law only allows parents to waive claims against a park or business if the child is hurt because of an "inherent risk" of the ride or activity. Parents can't waive claims of negligence.
What does that mean? If your child is hurt because of some risk that's part of the activity, the waiver will stop you from filing suit. If she's hurt because the park or an employee didn't do something it was supposed do, or didn't do it properly, you may still be able to sue. For example, say you sign a waiver before your child takes a horseback ride:
- If your child's hurt when she's thrown from her horse because the horse became "spooked" by a snake, you probably can't sue because such an event is probably an inherent risk of horseback riding
- If, however, the saddle and she fall off the horse because an employee didn't tie it on properly, the waiver likely won't stop you from filing a suit because the worker's failure to do his job isn't an inherent risk of horseback riding
Liability waivers are used all over the US and for all sorts of recreational activities, such as white water rafting, canoeing, and bungee-jumping. However, a business or park can ask for a waiver for just about any type of ride or activity. Whether a waiver is "good" or valid depends on the laws of the state. In many states, waivers are legal and apply to negligence and inherent risks. In other states, waivers apply to only one or the other, or may not be good at all.
As a general rule, however, waivers need to be in writing and signed by the person the waiver applies to, or by a parent if he's a minor. The idea is simple: You need to be aware of and voluntarily waive or give up important legal rights.
That being said, you should know there are times when a waiver isn't needed at all. In many states, when it comes to activities that are "inherently dangerous," you may be waiving liability for injuries arising from the activity, even if you're not asked to sign a waiver.
A good example is a baseball game. In many states, attending a game carries with it the inherent risk of being hit by a foul ball or piece of a broken bat. By attending the game, you're agreeing to that risk and waive your right to sue if you're indeed hurt by such things.
What You Can Do
First, don't sign anything without reading it completely. It's unlikely an amusement park will hand you a stack of papers to sign with a waiver shoved in the middle of it. But, more likely than not, if you sign it, you'll be held to it even if you didn't read it. If you don't like the waiver or if you have any questions, don't sign it.
If you or a family member get hurt, don't hesitate to talk to an attorney in the area, even if you signed a waiver. The park or an employee may be responsible for the injury and you may not even know it.
Everyone wants to be fair, and no one should be out looking for someone to sue every time he or a loved one gets hurt. And people who like rides and attractions that have a bit of danger involved, or may involve unexpected and unintended happenings, should bear some of the responsibility if they're hurt.
The simple fact of the matter is, though, some accidents and tragedies are preventable, and no one should be able to hide behind a waiver when something preventable actually happens.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My child was injured last year at an amusement park, but we just found out about the injury a few weeks ago. Is it too late to file a lawsuit?
- I paid in advance for a rafting trip, and when I refused to sign the company's waiver, they refused to refund my all of my money. Is there anything I can do?
- Can one parent sign a waiver for her child without the other parent knowing about and agreeing to it?