State fairs are a long-standing American tradition; many families look forward to attending each year for amusement rides, cotton candy and often, an up-close look at the state’s agricultural products and livestock.
The expectation of a lighthearted good time makes the tragedy at Ohio’s State Fair on July 26 all the worse. The “Fire Ball” ride, featuring at least six rows of seats spinning around in the air while the 40-foot structure swings back and forth like a pendulum, broke apart during operation and launched riders up to 20 feet away, landing on concrete surrounding the ride.
The tragic accident killed an 18-year-old from Columbus and injured seven others, some critically. The injured include both riders who were thrown from the ride and passersby who were injured by flying debris as the aggressive thrill ride broke apart.
The accident victims likely have a personal injury claim in their future. The owner of the ride or the Ohio State Fair could be deemed responsible for negligence in causing the tragedy. In Virginia, whichever person or entity is named as the responsible party must pay the victims’ medical bills, compensation for physical and emotional suffering, lost wages from recovery time, and reduced overall earning capacity for any victims injured severely enough to impact their ability to resume their current occupations.
While there will likely be a responsible party named, CNN reports that the ride was inspected—and passed—multiple times in the days leading up to the opening night of the fair, when the accident happened.
Despite inspections, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates nearly 31,000 injuries from amusement park rides were seen in emergency rooms in 2016, and 22 deaths associated with amusement park ride incidents have been reported since 2010.
What can be done to prevent similar incidents at other state fairs? What reasonable expectation for safety do fairgoers have on these rides?
After noting that the ride passed inspection several times, and that at least one of the inspections was performed by a third-party inspector, Ohio Governor John Kasich summed up the situation: “If you’re looking for guarantees in life, they don’t exist. You just make sure that the risk you take on is something that you balance against the activity you want to engage in.” Kasich went on to explain that there would be a thorough, transparent investigation into the event.
Fairgoers and amusement park attendees would be wise to take Kasich’s warning to heart: individuals assume a level of risk anytime they get on a thrill ride. While safety inspections catch some equipment problems, always weigh the potential thrill against the potential injury from a worst-case scenario accident before you sit down and buckle your safety harness. The ride might not be as safe as you think.