Your Legal Rights at Work

Can You Hold A Waterpark Liable For Your Injuries? The Answer Depends On The Situation

by Lewis Hamilton

When everyone is still trying to squeeze a little bit more fun out of summer, waterparks become popular attractions. They can also become the source of tragedy—like the recent incident in Kansas where a 10-year-old boy was decapitated on the "World's Tallest Water Slide." When an accident like this happens, many people wonder if the park can be held responsible for the deaths and injuries? This is what you should know.

A waiver may protect the waterpark from liability for expected injuries.

Generally speaking, any time you go to a waterpark, you're taking a certain assumption of risk upon yourself. Waterparks can be inherently dangerous because the ground around them gets wet and slippery. If you're going down a slide that's hundreds of feet in the air and full of hills, turns, and valleys to make the rush more exciting, there's always going to be some risk of bumps, bruises, and maybe even broken bones.

More than likely, the waterpark has some sort of form language advising you of your own responsibility to manage the risk either when you purchase the tickets, on the back of the tickets themselves, or in signs above the ticket booth.

While places like waterparks have tried to indemnify themselves against all lawsuits through the use of waiver contracts that make participants agree not to sue them for any and all injuries, such contracts have generally been found to be against public policy. If waterparks were allowed to do that, they'd have no reason to ensure that rides were safe, include obvious safety measures like harnesses, hire lifeguards, or the like. The reality is that waivers and the legal expectation of personal responsibility are good for minor injuries that are sustained through the sort of accident you can expect at a waterpark—like slipping when you stand up too quickly at the end of the ride and losing your balance.

They aren't enough to protect the park against unexpected dangers.

Sometimes, the basic measures that a waterpark should take to create a (mostly) safe, enjoyable experience for its guests gets lost in the pursuit of a ride that's bigger and more thrilling than other rides. For example, in the case of the boy killed in Kansas, there were design problems with the slide from the beginning. Engineers had to tear down part of the original design and reconfigure angles after sandbags—used in place of people during tests—flew off the ride. They also chose to use Velcro straps to secure people, when body harnesses similar to the ones used on roller coasters may have been a wiser choice. Choosing to omit those type of basic safety measures could easily make the park responsible for the child's death and other people's injuries.

Parks can also be held responsible if they don't follow the required rules—including their own. For example, the waterpark in Kansas was supposed to be inspected for safety annually, but the last recorded inspection was in 2012. In addition, the weight minimum for the ride was a combined 400lbs among the occupants. There are reports that the park allowed groups that didn't quite meet the weight limit to go down the ride—a violation that could cause an accident since the weight of the riders is partly what keeps in the raft in place on the ride.

If you were injured in a waterpark accident this year and suspect that there were safety issues involved, like malfunctioning equipment or a lax approach to the park's own safety rules, contact The Law Office of Israel S Hernandez, PLLC or a similar firm.