A three-year-old girl was taken to a Corvallis hospital last week after falling off a ride at the Benton County Fair, according to a report from Eugene TV station KVAL. An article posted on the station’s website notes that “deputies received reports that the child fell a short distance off a ride that spun in a circle. The child was alone on the ride.”
“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the lap restraint meant to secure the child failed,” the station writes. “After the accident, the ride was shut down.”
We are at the time of year where traveling carnivals and county fairs are regular fixtures of American life. As such, this accident is a reminder of the degree to which regulation of these potentially dangerous rides varies significantly from state to state (and, to some extent, within states). As a 2016 article from The Oregonian noted: “When it comes to state carnival ride regulation, Oregon falls somewhere in the middle, between California – a state with a dense thicket of amusement park and carnival regulations – and Alabama, where regulation is essentially nonexistent.” (if you are travelling this summer it is worth clicking on the link to that article at the end of this post and scrolling down to the map detailing the extent of carnival regulation state-by-state).
The newspaper notes that “Oregon doesn’t have a government-funded inspection program. Instead, it relies on insurance companies to verify that each ride has been inspected and is ready for use.” This is confirmed by the state’s website focused in corporate permitting. The state webpage notes that every ride also requires a state-issued permit and that “permit applications must be accompanied by an inspection report and proof of insurance… the insurance coverage shall insure all persons riding or otherwise in contact with the ride or device against loss or injury in an amount not less than $1 million per occurrence and an aggregate total of not less than $2 million. The inspection must be performed within 90 days of the permit application.” While insurance companies have an obvious financial interest in not certifying unsafe rides, it is still worth asking whether, ultimately, this is a governmental function that ought to be largely outsourced to private industry.
From a legal perspective, accidents like the one in Benton County need to be looked at from multiple angles. It is important to consider the state’s laws concerning negligence and the sale of lease of defective products (ORS 30.920). It is also essential to examine both whether the ride in question is defective and whether it has been properly maintained and operated. This includes investigating whether the person or persons staffing the ride are fully trained for their jobs and whether the people supervising them are also carrying out their oversight duties.
As a Portland lawyer who often takes cases involving wrongful deaths, injuries to children and corporate negligence the Benton County incident serves as a timely reminder concerning a long list of issues we should all keep in mind when visiting a county fair or travelling carnical this summer or fall.
The Oregonian: Carnival season: Just how safe are those rides?
Oregon Codes & Standards: Amusement Ride and Device Code Program
Oregon.gov : Amusement Park Rides – Permitting Services