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I Got Injured in an Amusement Park Accident. Can I Sue?

How California views liability and assumption of risk

There are few better ways to beat the summer’s heat by flocking to amusement park rides, roller coasters and water parks with their water slides. While these joyous spots offer delightful distractions to our everyday lives, trips can end in tragedy.

If you or a loved one suffers an injury in a theme park accident, what are your options? Well, tickets to amusement parks often have releases, or disclaimers, printed on their backs—though enforcement of them is questionable, especially as it pertains to bodily injuries.

“Cases go both ways on the ability of a park to be released from liability if someone gets hurt in their park,” says Anthony J. Ellrod, a Los Angeles attorney who practices attractions law. In most cases involving amusement park injuries, the argument boils down to whether or not someone has assumed the risk in participating in the activity.

For example, in a case that went to California’s Supreme Court, a surgeon was driving a bumper car with her hand outside the bumper. As a result, her hand was smashed between two cars.

“For a long time, assumption of risk only applied to sports, and bumper cars are—most of the time—not a sport,” says Ellrod. “The court held that the assumption of risk isn’t only applied to sport, but any activity with risk. And the surgeon was denied her claim based on that precedent.”

Ellrod continues: “Another example is a guy exiting a haunted house. He was met there by an employee with a chainsaw. It freaked the guy out, a chase ensued, and the guest managed to hurt himself whilst fleeing. His argument was that he had left the haunted house and therefore was beyond his assumption of risk; the court said it’s all a part of the experience, and his claim was denied.”

The assumption of risk has myriad applications and circumstances that can either attach liability or release businesses from it. “As a consumer, the release isn’t enforceable itself,” says Ellrod. “But the assumption of risk that is inherent in the attraction causes there to be no risk of liability. And the subjective knowledge of the plaintiff is irrelevant to the courts. Whether the person who was hurt did or did not know of the risk has no bearing on whether there was an inherent risk or not.”

Any way you slice it, it’s not about you personally knowing that there is risk—but the fact that there is inherent risk in the activity, that matters to the court. And, a business—no matter how risky—cannot release themselves of gross negligence. “From a public policy standpoint, and for the interest of public safety, if gross negligence is shown, businesses should be held liable,” says Ellrod. “No one should be able to release that.”

If you have been injured at an amusement park in California, you will be best served by contacting an experienced personal injury attorney, who will make sure that, if someone is at fault, the liability will be correctly placed.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of personal injury and premises liability.

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