Kansas Wrongful Death at Carnival Underscores Urgency of Oversight

Amusement parks, carnivals and fairs are plentiful in summertime. Given that these events and rides are open to the public, site owners and ride operators owe a duty of care to ensure both are reasonably safe, and that the public is warned of any dangers that may not be open and obvious.

When a 10-year-old boy was killed on a water slide in Kansas City last year, calls for stricter regulations of Kansas amusement parks gained steam. Spurred to action by the tragedy, lawmakers passed a bill requiring operators of amusement park rides in Kansas to meet more stringent rules. However, the Kansas Senate and soon after the House approved a bill that postpones the law from fully taking effect, giving amusement park operators more time to fall in line.

This decision came just weeks after a toddler in Wichita was electrocuted after touching metal fencing outside a bounce house. The fencing had come in contact with electrical wires from the bounce house. Such incidents are not unheard of, as the Wichita Eagle reported. About a decade ago in Pennsylvania, a boy suffered a (fortunately) minor shock when he grabbed onto a carnival fence ride. Turns out one of the heavy-duty wires used to power the rides had come in contact with the fence, causing it to becomes electrified. Although it was a new wire, investigators later found a cut in it.

Risk of Electrocution at Carnivals

Risk of electric shock has also been proven to occur when carnival staffers route large wires along curbs and in the gutters in order to prevent people from tripping on them. Eliminating trip-and-fall hazards is important, but the risk is if there is a rain (as often occurs in the summer), those wires are suddenly underwater, and the water serves as a conductor, putting anyone who comes in contact with it at risk of a deadly shock. The fencing that delivered the fatal shock to the 15-month-old girl outside the bounce house was carrying 290 volts of electricity.

Although one carnival operator told the Eagle reporter one “just never knows when something like this can happen,” that’s not entirely true. There is precedent for these kind of incidents, and inspectors can carry hand-held devices to test fencing and equipment for shock risks. It’s not necessarily enough to test fencing or equipment a single time either, particularly at fairs or carnivals, where equipment is frequently moved, altered or suddenly broken down.

A single nick in a wire can result in electrification of everything it touches. Wires that are bunched are also at risk of heat damage.

Regulating Carnival Safety

As our Wichita injury lawyers know, carnival regulation varies widely from state-to-state. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates how amusement rides are manufactured, but there is no federal oversight in how the rides and equipment are set up, maintained and operated.

In addition to wires and water slides, problems have been cited with inflatable bounce houses, which too often aren’t properly tethered to the ground. Kansas has relatively light regulation of amusement parks in comparison to other states, but the new regulations should help to bolster public protections.

When injuries or death occurs at these sites, it may be grounds for litigation.