The Serious Risks of Traveling Carnival Parks

A day at the carnival or fairground often brings back childhood memories of cotton candy, Ferris wheels, and fun times. From summer nights under the twinkling lights to silly games at autumn festivals, there’s something for everyone. However, underneath these exciting distractions, these pop-up parks can hide devastating dangers for visitors and employees alike.

On August 13, 2022, firefighters were called to the Napa Town and Country Fair to rescue 12 riders who were stuck on a carnival ride that malfunctioned in mid-air. A teenager who was on the ride explained, “They just left us swirling up there and they didn’t tell us like we were broke down.”

The father of the teen said a young girl who was rescued from the ride was “crying, on the ground shaking like a leaf,” after the ordeal.

The Rampage, which features a large spinning bar with two Ferris wheel-type structures attached to either end, got stuck during its final ride of the evening. Ride operators were unable to bring one of the Ferris wheels down to the station; firefighters were called in to assist. They used a 70-foot truck ladder to reach the riders stuck in the air. Thankfully, no injuries were reported in this incident.

Other carnival-goers are not so lucky to escape unscathed.

On September 4, 2022, more than a dozen people were injured when a drop tower ride crashed to the ground at a traveling carnival in Punjabi, India. The ride, which features a spinning saucer that travels up and down a vertical pole, malfunctioned when it was about 50 feet in the air. The saucer plummeted to the ground below.

The terrifying event was caught on video and shows several passengers being tossed into the air from the force of impact, even though they had been strapped into their seats.

16 people, including children, were hospitalized after the accident.

Early reports cited a “technical issue” as the cause of the malfunction. The ride was supposed to end on August 31, but it was extended until September 11—in spite of the incident.

Why Do Traveling Carnival Accidents Happen?

Carnivals and fairs are often traveling or temporary, so their rides and other attractions are built to be set up and taken down on a regular basis. Being constantly on the move contributes to significant wear and tear on the rides and attractions, and even burnout amongst the personnel in charge of assembling, disassembling, and operating them.

These factors can create situations where a disaster is more likely to occur.

2017 Fire Ball Ride Malfunction at Ohio State Fair

On July 26, 2017, a ride named the Fire Ball broke apart while in motion at the Ohio State Fair, sending a full row of seats flying to the ground below. An 18-year-old lost his life at the scene when he was thrown from the ride, and 7 other riders were injured.

The Fire Ball ride, owned by Amusements of America and manufactured by KMG, was 18 years old at the time of the malfunction. KMG investigated and issued its findings nine days after the incident, stating “Excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam's wall thickness over the years...This finally led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation."

Just over a year after the deadly accident, another victim lost her life. The 19-year-old had suffered a brain injury when she was thrown from the ride and never recovered.

In response to this tragedy, several states, including Tennessee, California, Indiana, and Kentucky, issued orders banning all Fire Ball amusement rides from operating within their borders.

2019 Xtreme Super Sizzler Malfunction at Harvest Festival

On October 12, 2019, a 10-year-old girl lost her life after riding the Xtreme Super Sizzler ride at the Deerfield Township Harvest Festival in New Jersey. She was ejected from the ride while it was in motion.

The Xtreme Super Sizzler ride at the festival in question was not equipped with seatbelts, even though a series of ejections on similar Sizzler rides ended with California requiring seatbelts on the ride in 2006 and Florida and Massachusetts following suit.

In 2017, the manufacturer issued a notice to ride owners, mandating that a seat belt system be installed on all Sizzler rides, but the owner of the ride at the Deerfield Township Harvest Festival claimed to have never received the notice.

In the wake of this accident, the state of New Jersey ordered a full shutdown of the ride.

2021 Magic Carpet Ride Malfunction at National Cherry Festival

In 2021, a terrifying incident at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, MI could have proven deadly if it weren’t for the heroic actions of several bystanders. The Magic Carpet Ride, which spins riders vertically on a single large arm, started rocking violently back and forth, threatening to fall while the ride was operating with passengers on board.

Several passersby leaped into action, using their body weight to stabilize the ride until the spinning arm came to a stop. Thankfully, no one was injured.

The ride, which had started to come off its blocking while in motion, was taken apart by the next morning and was shipped back to the manufacturer for further analysis.

Owner, Operator & Manufacturer Accountability for Traveling Carnival Rides

The individuals and companies that manufacture rides, run pop-up carnivals, and operate the rides themselves have an obligation to ensure the safety of all passengers.

Some of these obligations include:

  • Design and manufacturing: Manufacturers must ensure that rides are designed and constructed according to industry standards and safety regulations, including materials, engineering, and quality control.
  • Inspection and maintenance: Owners and operators must regularly inspect and maintain rides, following the manufacturer's guidelines, to identify and repair any potential safety hazards.
  • Height and weight restrictions: Ride operators must adhere to height and weight restrictions for all passengers, without exception, to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Staff training and certification: Owners and operators must ensure that ride operators and maintenance personnel are properly trained and certified, so they can safely operate and maintain the rides.
  • Emergency preparedness: Owners and operators must develop and implement emergency response plans and procedures, including ride evacuations and first aid, in case of accidents or other incidents.
  • Signage and warnings: Clear and visible signs must be posted at each ride, informing passengers of safety rules, restrictions, and potential risks.
  • Incident reporting and investigation: Owners and operators must report any accidents or safety incidents to relevant authorities and conduct thorough investigations to identify and address the causes.
  • Compliance with local laws and regulations: Owners and operators must ensure that their rides meet all applicable local, state, and federal safety regulations, and obtain necessary permits and certifications.
  • Insurance coverage: Owners and operators must carry sufficient liability insurance to cover potential claims arising from accidents or injuries on their rides.
  • Communication and transparency: Owners and operators should communicate openly with passengers, staff, and regulatory authorities about safety measures, incidents, and improvements, to build trust and promote a culture of safety.

How Are Pop-Up Carnivals Regulated?

Non-permanent rides, such as those at a fairground or traveling carnival, are regulated by a different governmental body than fixed rides at amusement parks such as those operated by Six Flags or Disney. Fixed-site amusement parks are subject to regulation by local and state agencies, while non-permanent rides, inflatables, and go-karts are regulated by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC manages recalls and laws surrounding unsafe products. Read our blog post on theme parks and water parks to learn more about the dangers of fixed-site amusement parks.

Considering this distinction, any injuries or wrongful deaths that occur due to unsafe carnival rides may be cause for a product liability case against the manufacturer of the ride, the carnival itself, or both.

Reading the Fine Print at Carnivals

When you enter the fairgrounds, or the temporary location taken over by the traveling carnival, you are covered by premises liability. When you enjoy a pop-up ride at the fair, such as go-karts or a mechanical spinning ride, you are covered by product liability.

Even if riders are greeted with a warning like “ride at your own risk” as they enter the ride, or if there’s similar fine print on a ticket stub, the ride operator is not absolved from liability. In fact, while a ticket stub is especially helpful in an investigation, it’s not a necessary piece of evidence for a recovery claim.

Should you or a loved one be injured while aboard a ride, or even walking near a ride or other carnival attraction, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible. Take photos and videos of the area and structure and try to gather as much photo and video evidence of the accident as possible from friends and passersby. If you do have a ticket stub, be sure to keep it in a safe place.

Because these events and attractions are often temporary, you can’t rely on the ride or even the operators being there for much longer after the incident. In extreme cases, the ride may even be disassembled the next day, like the Magic Carpet Ride incident at the National Cherry Festival in Michigan. Get the medical care you need, and talk to an attorney about your rights and options. No operator, manufacturer, or owner should be absolved of their responsibility to keep riders safe.

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