The California Supreme Court has sided with Great America Amusement Park in an important bumper car accident case.
In a decision limiting liability of amusement parks for amusement park accidents to patrons, the California Supreme Court ruled on December 31, 2012, that the Great American Amusement Park is not liable for amusement park injuries suffered to a rider of a bumper car resulting from the inherent nature of the attraction.
The California Supreme Court previously held in a case relating to sports (touch football) injuries: “In cases involving ‘primary assumption of risk’–where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury–the doctrine continues to operate as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.” Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal. 4th 296. The court now has extended this doctrine to recreational activities, limiting liability for injuries resulting from amusement park rides.
In a suit brought by Smriti Nalwa, due to her fracturing her wrist while trying to brace herself by putting her hand on the car’s dashboard in a head on bumper car collision, the California Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 that her accident injury was caused by the collision with another bumper car, a normal part of the ride. According to the Los Angeles Times (AA1, January 1, 2013), the court stated, “A small degree of risk inevitably accompanies the thrill of speeding through loops, defying gravity or, in bumper cars, engaging in the mock violence of low-speed collisions. Those who voluntarily join in these activities also voluntarily take on their minor inherent risks.”
In analyzing the legal doctrine of assumption of the risk and recreational activities that inherently involve some risks, the court stated that riders assume some risks when voluntarily riding on bumper cars, specifically stating “[T]he primary assumption of risk doctrine is not limited to activities classified as sports, but applies as well to other recreational activities ‘involving an inherent risk of injury to voluntary participants . . . where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity.’ (Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC, supra, 175 Cal.App.4th at p. 658.)”
The court added, “Where the doctrine applies to a recreational activity, operators, instructors and participants … owe other participants only the duty not to act so as to increase the risk of injury over that inherent in the activity.” The court went on to state, “Low-speed collisions between the padded independently operated cars are inherent in – are the whole point of – a bumper car ride.” The court’s decision can be read in full here.
As a result, the Times reported that “Amusement parks will continue to be required to use the utmost care on thrill rides such as roller coasters, where riders surrender control to the operator. But on attractions where riders have some control, the parks can be held liable only if their conduct unreasonably raised the dangers.” The court reasoned anything else would have a chilling effect in providing such rides and other recreational activities for enjoyment by those willing to assume their inherent risks.
Thus, amusement parks that fail to provide routine safety measures, such as seat belts, appropriate bumpers and speed controls still may be liable for injuries, but owner operators should not be held liable for injuries from expected low speed bumper car collisions.
In this case, the injured party argued to no avail that that by making the ride uni-directional (that is, traveling in the same direction to avoid head-on collisions), as other parks had done before and this park did do but only after this injury, the amusement park could have prevented this head-on collision injury.
Here, the court found that the amusement park had passed normal inspections and everything was working normally on the bumper cars at the time of this collision. There had been 55 reported bumper car crash injuries (bruises, cuts and strains) from 2004 to 2005, none of which involved a fracture.
Previously, the courts have limited liability for risky sports, such as football (the Knight case cited above), and now the California Supreme Court has extended this doctrine to recreational activities at amusement parks. One question is whether this doctrine will or should apply to other recreational activities, such as wave runners and fitness classes. It appears from this decision that it will, depending on the provider’s degree of control and other factors. Another question is whether the provider must show that the injured party knowingly assumed the risk of the injury (this refers to the legal doctrine mentioned above as “assumption of the risk”) and from this decision it appears that the court will not require such a finding in recreational activities so long as the injury that occurred was one inherent in the natural use of the activity.
While owner operators must take reasonable steps to protect riders and, in the case of rides like roller coasters, take the utmost care where the rider surrenders all control to the owner operator, it is understandable that the court declined to extend to all riders what might amount to strict liability for all rides in amusement parks in order to prevent the chilling effect it might have on such parks, such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. While we all want – and expect – amusement parks and providers of recreational activities to take appropriate measures to protect the safety of our loved ones, most of us don’t want such providers to close down in fear of facing strict liability – that is, legal responsibility for any injury regardless of inappropriate or negligent conduct.
We are interested to know your thoughts about this case, including whether you think amusement parks should be responsible for the types of injuries that occurred here, and whether you ever sustained an amusement park injury or were ever injured on an amusement park ride or ever witnessed such an injury.
Our California Personal Injury Attorneys provide FREE LEGAL CONSULTATIONS for amusement park injuries, including roller coaster injuries, and have handled thousands of injury and wrongful death claims, including car accident cases, resulting from negligence or other unsafe and dangerous actions and conditions throughout Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and all of California. Should you or anyone you care about suffer any injury due to a car or motorcycle accident, amusement park ride, premises liability accident or the fault of another, please let us know as soon as possible so we may assist your family and you with proper investigation, preservation of evidence, medical care and financial recovery. You may contact us at any time for an absolutely FREE consultation:
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