On a trip to an amusement part, the last thing any family wants envisage is the possibility of death. Instead, parents expect that rules and regulations – including state laws – will prevent any mishap or injury to their children. Sadly this isn’t always the case.
A recent investigation detailed in the Chicago Tribune found that, unlike numerous other states, Illinois has no overarching state directives to ensure that carnival rides will properly secure small children. Instead, key safety decisions about height requirements and restraints are left to the manufacturers that design and assemble the rides. As a result, inadequate ride design, and poor state government oversight that might otherwise correct problems, can put children at risk on amusement rides.
In general, Illinois personal injury laws are in place to protect consumers from dangerous products, and to help customers recover after they have been injured. Corporations are expected to test their merchandise to ensure that the products they produce conform to applicable safety regulations, and when dangerous or defective products are disseminated to the public, the companies may be held legally responsible for injuries that arise from the use of those hazardous products.
Nevertheless, there is a special exception for abnormally dangerous products that allows state and local governments to intervene and add even more safety regulations if concern arises over the product’s potential to cause harm. As it stands, the Chicago Tribune reports that – in addition to the inherent danger of rollercoasters and rides – the amusement ride industry lags behind other manufacturers of children’s products across the country when it comes to keeping kids from squirming out of their seats. In fact, says the Tribune, restraints on strollers and high chairs are manufactured to meet stricter standards than are restraints on some rides that travel 15 miles per hour.
To mitigate the risks of children falling out of their seats or climbing out of the restraints on rides, some states have adopted international design standards, or require engineers to review the design of new rides before they operate. In some states, when annual inspections are done to check for compliance with ride maintenance, inspectors are also afforded the authority to evaluate the safety of manufacturers’ height requirements or restraints, both of which are considered parts of a ride’s design. In Illinois, none of these additional safety protocols have been adopted.
Products liability claims in Illinois can generally be divided into three broad categories:
1. A manufacturing defect, which generally occurs when an otherwise safe product is assembled carelessly;
2. A design defect, which occurs when, no matter how well the product is put together, its intent or layout is inherently dangerous; and,
3. A failure to warn, which can occur when a product markets a product that they know to be potentially hazardous, and fails to warn consumers of the latent danger.
Here, the problem lies with the design of the rides, which are unsafe in that they fail to prevent the foreseeable risk of harm to children. Although the manufacturer may claim that a rider must be responsible for staying in a restraint properly, amusement rides that admit children must also take into account the realistic notion that kids don’t always follow the rules, and often can’t be held accountable for their behavior.
In addition, in situations that give rise to Chicago personal injury lawsuits based on the failure to mitigate a hazardous design, the state of Illinois may also be held liable for a lack of protection provided by the State, and a failure to enact and enforce laws to protect its constituents.