Ride at Your Own Risk: Amusement parks and liability.

AuthorKlippenstein, Lee

What does it mean to do something at "our own risk"? And who is ultimately responsible when accidents do happen?

When I was young, winter officially ended with family outings to (the recently closed) Wild Rapids waterslide park in Sylvan Lake or to Calgary's Callaway Park. These amusement parks offer thrill and excitement--our bodies are placed in unnatural positions and subjected to high speeds. They are the epitome of fun.

Amusement park rides can turn these thrills into disasters. Action Park in New Jersey, the subject of a recent documentary, is an extreme example. Six people died during the park's 18-year run, and countless more were injured. Action Park was once advertised as the world's biggest water park. However, the constant stream of lawsuits led to its closure in 1996.

In Alberta, tragedy struck in 1986 at West Edmonton Mall's Galaxy Land. A mechanical failure caused the Mindbender roller-coaster to derail. This disaster took the lives of three people and hospitalized 19 more. Catastrophes like this are rare, yet the possibility of harm is ever-present.

This article will examine the legal rights we give up when we enter an amusement park. What does it mean to do something at "our own risk"? And who is ultimately responsible when accidents do happen?

Safety Standards and Regulations

Amusement parks are designed to be safe. Governments regulate the operation and maintenance of these parks through a variety of means. In Alberta, standards for these rides are set by the Amusement Rides Standard Regulation under the Safety Codes Act. The Alberta Elevating Devices & Amusement Rides Safety Association (AEDARSA) is an additional, independent, body which helps to enforce and maintain these standards. This means that amusement park attractions are subject to a strict set of rules. Park owners have a legal duty to protect riders.

Accidents may be rare, but what happens when they do take place? The events which lead to the injury are always relevant. Was the rider following the rules, or misbehaving? Was there a mechanical failure, or did the ride attendant act negligently? In most instances, the legal responsibility for an injury is determined by the park's liability waiver.

What is a Waiver?

Waivers are a common element of many contracts. They require you to consciously give up a right or privilege that you would otherwise have. In the amusement park context, guests are asked to give their consent to a subset of waivers known as...

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