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Fatal Injury On Midwestern Water Slide

The whole country is still talking about the 10-year-old boy who died a gruesome death on the world’s tallest water slide, and discussion is starting to focus on legal responsibility for the tragedy.

The boy was decapitated as he plunged down the 168-foot Verruckt (German for “insane”) at the Kansas City Schlitterbahn water park. It is still not known exactly what happened on the ride, which takes three people who are strapped to a raft down 17 stories, and then back up again, at speeds of up to 70 mph. Under current law, amusement parks in Kansas inspect their own rides to ensure safety; a local newspaper reported that the Verruckt had not been state-inspected since it opened in 2014. Now, the Labor Department has requested safety-related documents, but at least one national advocacy group wants more. “Something more has to be done. We owe it to this child’s family,” declared Kids in Danger’s executive director.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates that 335 million Americans go on 1.6 billion amusement park rides every year, and that fatal injuries are “extremely rare.”

Landowner Liability

Paying guests are invitees, since they are on the land because of the landowner’s express or implied invitation and the landowner obtains a benefit (money) from their presence. Vendors, job applicants, window-shoppers, and any others who visit for economic reasons are generally also invitees, even if no money changes hands. Most social guests are also invitees, since they are on the land after the landowner’s express or implied invitation and the owner obtains a benefit (social interaction) from their presence.

In these situations, landowners have a duty to frequently inspect the premises and ensure that the property is reasonably safe. Self-inspections are perfectly legal, as long as they are tied to property safety. In other words, a cursory walk-through is probably insufficient, especially if the property is clearly shown to be unsafe.

Victims in landowner liability cases, like slip-and-falls or amusement park injuries, are normally entitled to compensation for both their economic damages, like lost wages, and noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering.

Defenses in Landowner Liability Cases

One common insurance company defense is assumption of the risk, which can be either express or implied. The defense basically has two elements, which are:

  • The voluntary assumption of
  • A known risk.

Many amusement parks, gyms, play areas, and road races require participants to sign liability waivers. Typically, these waivers are not “voluntary” in the legal sense of the word, because participants must sign the waiver as-is in order to participate in the activity. In some cases, these contacts are against public policy and therefore void; in other cases, courts consider them to be take-it-or-leave-it contracts of adhesion, which are not legally binding.

In these situations, the insurance company usually argues that the victim’s conduct indicated their assumption of the risk, and most courts accept this argument.

However, the victim must voluntarily assume a known risk, and serious injury is not a known risk associated with water slides. The same logic applies if an athlete is injured in a fistfight after a game or if anything that the insurance company tries to dismiss as a “freak accident” occurs.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

A liability waiver is not a “get out of jail free” card for landowners. For a free consultation in this area, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Port St. Lucie. At the Eighmie Law Firm, P.A., we do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury cases.

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