Part of the thrill of riding a rollercoaster is the inherent danger in it – zipping around at lightning speed, falling from great heights, spinning and whirling and flying. For the people who insure amusement park rides, though, that danger presents very real liability risk.
Nick Kuchulis, senior vice president and practice area leader for amusement attractions at Brown & Riding, said that general liability for the manufacturers of theme park rides is high.
“This is the time of the year, carnivals are happening left and right … from Memorial Day to Labour Day. That’s their bread and butter. And obviously that’s when things become most active,” he said.
“Especially all the stuff in the news lately, it’s that time of year. Any type of event that happens in the amusement park industry is pretty well publicised.”
As recently as last weekend, in Dublin, California, theme park dangers made the news when a 10-year-old boy was thrown from a waterslide on to concrete – at the $43 million Wave at Emerald Glen Park grand opening. The slide had reportedly been open for about 90 minutes when the incident occurred. The boy suffered only cuts and scrapes, but sections of the park had to be closed down.
Of course that pales in comparison to other recent amusement park disasters, such as the death of Caleb Schwab last year at the Schlitterbahn WaterPark in Kansas City, Kansas. The 10-year-old, the son of Republican state representative Scott Schwab, was reportedly decapitated in the incident. The settlement for that incident – though undisclosed – was believed to be close to $20 million, Kuchulis said. Caleb’s family reached a civil settlement with the owners and operators of Schlitterbahn and also with the manufacturer of the rafts used on the water ride.
These kinds of incidents are not commonplace, but they do happen. And when they do, they’re big news.
For ride manufacturers, general liability is “the biggest one” in terms of coverage, Kuchulis said. “And then there’s excess liability over that.” Occasionally, too, there would be professional liability exposures as well, he said.
When those amusement ride horrors occur, that’s when these policies may kick in – depending on where and with whom the blame lies.
“It’s a fine line,” Kuchulis said. “You [as the manufacturer] sell the ride to the operator, or the park, and if a claim is to happen, you’ve got to figure out why it happened, what caused it, whether it was a product defect issue, or was it the operator forgot to put on the seatbelt or didn’t maintain it properly or they overloaded the weight.”
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