When winter starts to fade and people begin looking for places to spend the evening outside, one of the most common attractions are amusement parks. These parks tend to have activities that are fun to many different age groups and draw millions of people across the United States every year. Some parks stay in the same location year-round, other parks – like carnivals and fairs – move from state to state. Each state is responsible for inspecting the rides at each location and certifying that those rides are safe.
However, states do not agree on being responsible for failures in those inspections that lead to injury or death, and they do not agree to allow employees to be held responsible for acts or omissions committed in the course of their duties, unless their actions can be considered intentional or malicious.
“There have been recent high-profile deaths and injuries at carnivals and fairs in Texas, Ohio, and Kansas which have begun to make people aware of the fact that state employees are immune from liability in situations like this,” said Charles E. Boyk, an Ohio Personal Injury Attorney with Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, in Toledo, OH. “The lawsuits that have been filed have only listed the carnival companies and ride owners – not the state. Ohio law requires any carnival ride owner to provide proof of liability insurance of at least $500,000 per person injured on any ride, but many times the injuries associated with these accidents result in damages well in excess of insurance limits.” The fact that states have been able to avoid liability has only been amplified when reporting by news agencies reveals, as it did in the case of the Ohio injuries, that the ride in question had been inspected, and cleared as “safe” only hours before the accident.
For any individual state employee to be held liable for their actions, it must be found that their actions – the negligent inspection that led to injury, for example – were carried out with malicious intent. As Boyk notes, this is a very high bar to clear. “Proving that an employee whose job it is to ensure the safety of carnival rides intentionally ignored serious safety issues requires an almost criminal level of conduct. Plaintiffs would have to show that the employee saw the dangerous condition – excessive rust, for example – and ignored it with malicious intent.”
Until individual states decide to eliminate immunity for ride inspectors, individuals injured on rides will continue to be limited to seeking recourse against the amusement company and ride owner.