Texas Six Flags Death Leads to Calls for Tougher Safety Regulations
Amusement parks are regulated on a state-by-state basis, with California requiring inspections by state officials and mandating reporting of accidents. Unfortunately, not every state has strict regulations for amusement parks. A California injury lawyer discusses how a recent death at a Six Flags in Texas has prompted some to call on federal lawmakers to impose uniform safety standards.
In California, a bill was approved in 1999 following the death of an 18-year-old named Quimby Ghilotti. The bill improved safety standards to reduce the risk of amusement park injuries and deaths, mandating for the first time that employees at amusement parks undergo safety training. The bill also imposed broader insurance requirements, mandated the hiring of trained amusement park inspectors, and required parks to report serious accidents.
The change to California’s laws on amusement parks was necessary because at the time, California was one of just four states with no regulations on permanent amusement parks.
Today, there are a number of rules and guidelines in place in the state that aim to make parks safe for visitors. For example, provisions in Article 6 of the California Safety and Health Act address administration of the permanent amusement ride program. There are also regulations on portable rides as well as on permanent amusement park rides, especially following the passage of the 2007 Portable Ride Law.
California’s laws are relatively strict when compared with certain other states. The laws mandate, for example, that state inspectors must perform annual records audits on permanent park rides. State inspectors also must physically inspect rides each year and can conduct unannounced operational inspections.
Amusement park owners not only must submit to the required state inspections, but must also have a Qualified Safety Inspector certify each year that every ride meets state regulations and industry standards. Ride owners also need to report on any accident that necessitates medical service or results in injury or death.
Amusement Park Death Leads to Calls for Tougher Regulations
Amusement park trade groups believe that the state-by-state method of regulating parks is the right approach because states are in the best position to know what regulations are appropriate in their jurisdiction. A spokesperson for one trade group, Colleen Mangone, indicated that, “There is no evidence that federal oversight would improve on the already excellent safety record of the industry.”
Not everyone agrees that regulation should be left up to the state. Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey has long pushed for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to take over regulation of fixed-site amusement parks. The CPSC already oversees mobile carnival rides, and Markey believes that it would be safer if the agency also had the authority to regulate permanent parks. Markey’s position has been getting new attention in recent weeks in light of the tragic death of a woman who fell 75 feet off a roller coaster at a Six Flags in Texas.
Federal regulations could help to improve safety in states that have not gone far enough to protect the public. In Texas, for example, the Department of Insurance regulates amusement parks and mandates annual inspections and liability insurance of $1 million per ride. However, Texas does not have specific requirements regarding the investigation of amusement park accidents, and there is concern that no detailed report will be released on the problems that led to the recent death.
If federal regulations existed, the regulations could resolve this issue by mandating reporting of serious injuries and accidents and by imposing specific requirements on how incidents would be investigated. Six Flags has reported that they will be having both internal and external experts investigate what went wrong, but they are currently under no obligation to release this information, which means there is a chance they won’t. A federal law would ensure that the necessary information would be available to prevent future tragedies.
A federal law would also make amusement parks safer in general, especially since there are states that have no oversight at all, including Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. Such states might benefit greatly from uniform laws. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the tragic death at Six Flags will translate into lawmakers taking action to impose regulations to protect the public.
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