Insurers will likely be on the hook to indemnify Caleb Schwab’s family following a grisly accident where the 10-year-old boy was decapitated on a water slide at a Kansas water park.
Gary Hirst, Senior Consultant to the President at CHES Special Risk - an MGA that covers a number of water and theme parks in Canada – says fatal incidents such as these are extremely rare at parks, given the very stringent maintenance and health and safety requirements they must adhere to.
“It’s very unfortunate that these accidents do happen, but generally speaking they are accidents because they aren’t necessarily due to how something was designed or operated. It’s because a device or equipment has failed before the end of its life cycle,” he says, adding, “A lot of critical component parts in these fun parks do have a lifetime for items that are under stress. If a bolt needs to be replaced at six hours of usage, then it needs to be replaced. It’s not like a lot of industries where basically you leave the bolt there until it breaks.
“With that in mind, as a market for this type of risk, we are aware that accidents happen - unfortunately injuries happen and, at worst, death happens. Then it’s a case of having to indemnify the family for those injuries which is obviously a really horrible thing to do have to do, but of course you have to do it as gently and as generously as you can.”
Schwab was killed while riding the 168-ft slide – considered the world’s highest – at Kansas’s Schlitterbahn WaterPark. He was riding with two other passengers at the time, who also sustained facial injuries. While the details of the accident remain unclear, reports have emerged from other riders alleging the safety harnesses malfunctioned during the ride.
Nebraska resident Paul Oberhauser told KCTV
that he “just held on” after his safety shoulder straps fell off while on the ride on July 26. Another man, Kenneth Conrad, has also reported the straps fell off when he visited the water park last year.
However, Hirst says it’s highly unlikely such an important safety feature would be overlooked, and that given the circumstances, the park’s insurer is likely to cover all costs associate with investigative and legal proceedings.
‘The initial claim is more likely to be paid for by the insurer who will then put together a legal team which they will pay for initially as the investigation is under way,” he says. “It wouldn’t be right to comment on this particular incident, but I can’t see a fun park is deliberately not going to replace broken harnesses, because that is quite fundamental to the ride. I also can’t believe that the inspector health and safety team wouldn’t have found it. I just think it’s a very unfortunate accident and to my mind, unless something was deliberate, which I can’t imagine it is, the insurance policy should indemnify.”
He adds that water parks general take out very high limits on the CGL policies to protect against the financial repercussions of rare accidents.
“The client should be looking into buying a really high limit - there’s no point in buying a low limit to save money because courts these days are going through fun park limits and liabilities, so my mantra is the higher the better,” he says. There are incidents where high-paid white collar workers are being injured and these people are earning multi millions per year in terms of salary and incentives. And there they are, they’ve taken their children out to a fun park for fun and they’ve gotten injured, so as a result, the courts awards are all done on multiples of annual income, and you have to take that into account,” he says.
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