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Can I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against a Theme Park?

Caleb Schwab, who died on a water slide in Kansas City, Kan. (Image from Twitter)

Last year, the horrific case of a 10-year-old Kansas boy killed during a plunge on a 17-story waterslide made headlines across the country. In January, The Washington Post reported the family had reached a wrongful death settlement “with the owner of the water park and the manufacturer of the raft that the child was riding when the incident occurred.” Although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, they were sufficient to gain the approval of District Judge Thomas Sutherland. Owners of the waterpark also announced the slide would be dismantled as “the only proper course of action following this tragedy.”

In Florida, the site of seven of the top 25 grossing theme parks in the world, the story hit home. Theme parks, which entertain more than 70 million customers a year in Florida, can be held liable for injuries and wrongful death on their grounds and attractions. There are several legal theories for a lawsuit:

  • Negligence — Failure to maintain or inspect equipment or the faulty operation of an attraction could be grounds for a lawsuit. Employers are generally responsible for careless acts or omissions by their employees, so if the operator of an attraction makes a fatal mistake, the parent company of the theme park can be held liable.
  • Products liability — The designers and manufacturers of theme park attractions can be held strictly liable when an attraction is not reasonably safe for its intended use or even a foreseeable misuse.
  • Premises liability — Park proprietors have a duty to make the grounds reasonably safe for visitors. If a hidden hazard causes an injury, the park might be liable even if management was unaware of the problem.

Of course, the theme park can assert some affirmative defenses to a lawsuit:

  • Assumption of risk — The key to this defense is that a visitor has full knowledge of risks and decides to engage in an activity anyway. This defense usually requires a signed document attesting to the assumption of risk, but such an agreement is not always binding. Assumption of risk is often asserted in cases of unpredictable circumstances, such as horseback riding or paragliding. In those cases, a defendant usually must demonstrate that the injured party’s mistake or lack of requisite skill was the true cause of injury.
  • Violation of safety procedures — When a visitor disregards instructions or violates protocols meant to ensure safety, the defense can claim the injured party was negligent and caused the tragedy.

Finally, it’s important to know that only certain parties can file lawsuits on behalf of a deceased loved one, as our wrongful death page explains.

Largey Law fights aggressively for justice on behalf of grieving families. To schedule an appointment with an experienced wrongful death lawyer, free of charge, call 352.508.1485 or contact our office online.

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