Learn when an amusement park may be liable for a wrongful death
Florida is a popular location for amusement parks. Visited by more than 137 million people in 2022, a record number, tourism is a booming industry for the Sunshine State, and family-friendly theme parks are often a big attraction.
There can be unseen dangers to amusement parks, however. Equipment can malfunction. Operators can fail to secure safety harnesses. There can be accidents, including some that are fatal.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury, illness, disability or wrongful death because of an amusement park in Florida, you might be entitled to compensation.
Most popular theme parks in Florida
Walt Disney World is the most-visited theme park in Florida. It welcomes around 20 million people per year to Magic Kingdom alone. Other popular Disneyland spots include Epcot, with 11 million visitors, and Animal Kingdom, with 10 million.
Aside from Disney World, Universal Orlando is another big theme park. Universal Studios welcomes more than 8 million visitors per year, and so does the Islands of Adventure.
SeaWorld also ranks high on the popularity list, coming in at around 4 million visitors per year.
Other well-known amusement parks in Florida include:
- Fun Spot America
- Busch Gardens
- ICON Park
Amusement park injuries and deaths
The dark side of theme parks is their potential for injury and even death. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), around 30,900 people were hurt at amusement parks in the U.S. in 2016 alone. Additionally, between 2010 and 2017, 22 people lost their lives while riding thrill rides at theme parks.
Negligence is often the cause of these accidents. Everyone from builders to inspectors to ride operators can fail to do their jobs properly and be liable for a resulting injury or death.
2022 death at ICON Park
ICON Park made headlines in 2022 when a 14-year-old fell to his death while on a ride. He was on the Orlando FreeFall, described as the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower ride. While the ride was in motion, he slipped from his safety harness and plummeted to the ground.
What caused the slip? An investigation is still underway, but preliminary explanations include a seat sensor that was manually adjusted to the wrong specifications. The child was also heavier than the manufacturer’s recommended weight limit for the ride, but the ride didn’t have a designated weight limit at the park or a scale.
The boy’s parents are suing.
Common causes of amusement park ride accidents
Seat sensors are just one way that amusement park rides can fail. There are many more, including:
- Mechanical failures
- Defective parts or systems
- Poor or improper operation of the ride
- Riders not following directions
There are also cases where the “inherent nature” of the ride is dangerous. For example, high-speed roller coasters have been known to cause health issues like cerebral hemorrhage and cardiac arrest even when they’re working perfectly.
Common injuries at amusement parks
Injuries at theme parks can range from mild to severe. Hospitalizations can occur, and so can deaths.
Here are just a few injuries that are common at amusement parks:
- Cuts and lacerations
- Broken bones
- Brain aneurysms
Negligence from amusement parks
Amusement park lawsuits are personal injury lawsuits. This means that the plaintiff has to establish fault, which is usually negligence.
Amusement parks can be negligent in many ways:
- They might cut corners during the construction of a ride.
- They might fail to maintain a ride.
- They might not perform regular inspections.
Ride operators can also be negligent. If they don’t run the ride properly, or if they don’t vigilantly monitor who goes on the ride or how they’re strapped in, ride operators can be considered “at fault” for accidents.
Third-party liability in amusement park accidents
There are some circumstances where third parties can be found liable for accidents at amusement parks. Ride manufacturers, for example, can be defendants in cases where a ride malfunctioned and caused a death. Non-ride injuries such as shuttle accidents and food poisoning from concession stands can also potentially include additional defendants.
How amusement parks shift blame
No company wants to admit fault in a personal injury lawsuit. So what defenses might amusement parks use to shift the blame to a rider after an accident?
The most common is a legal defense known as the “assumption of risk.” Simply put, this is the idea that you knew the potential dangers of going on drop towers or roller coasters, and you did it anyway.
The amusement park might also try to argue that you did something wrong or shouldn’t have been on the ride in the first place. This is usually called something like “rider non-compliance.”
They might argue that you weren’t “in compliance” with the regulations of a ride if any of the following are true:
- You didn’t follow the safety instructions.
- You didn’t fit within the posted height or weight restrictions.
- You had a pre-existing heart problem or another health issue that prohibited you from riding.
Who can file a wrongful death claim in Florida?
If someone you love has died on an amusement park ride, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. In Florida, you’re entitled to do this as a spouse, blood relative or officially recognized legal representative of the deceased.
What damages can you recover in a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida?
Compensation for a wrongful death can be a complex matter divided between “individuals” and “estates.” Generally speaking, however, here are a few damages that you might recover:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship
- Lost earnings from the deceased
What’s the statute of limitations on a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida?
You have 2 years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim. There are rare circumstances where you can get the statute of limitations “tolled” or extended, but it’s a tricky road to navigate. An experienced Florida wrongful death attorney can help determine if you’re eligible to file a claim.
Contact a Florida wrongful death attorney
Losing someone you love is always a difficult process, but it’s often worse when you know the accident that led to their death could have been prevented. If your loved one was a victim of amusement park negligence, you might be entitled to substantial compensation. While money can never make up for the loss of someone you love, it can help you provide for yourself and your family while you grieve.
At Lorenzo & Lorenzo, our Tampa wrongful death attorneys have extensive experience in wrongful death cases. We offer free, confidential consultations, so contact us today to see how we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.