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Death of 10-Year-Old Boy at Kansas Water Park Renews Debate over Lack of Federal Safety Oversight

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Worlds-Tallest-Water-SlideThe recent death of a 10-year-old boy at a Kansas water park has reignited concerns over the lack of government oversight by any federal agency. The young victim, who was the son of a Kansas state senator, was at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City with his family, attending the park’s “Elected Officials Day.”

According to multiple media reports, the boy was riding the Verrückt – which means insane in German. At this time, officials do not know if he was fatally injured while on the ride or if he fell off the ride – a 17-story fall. An autopsy showed he died from an “unspecified neck injury.”

The Guinness World Records touts the Verrückt as the world’s tallest water slide. The ride, which reaches speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, was opened in 2014. There were multiple delays of its opening due to many failures in passing safety tests.

There are approximately 1,300 water parks operating in North America right now. In 2015, more than 85 million people visited those parks. But just how safe are these parks and should attendees be concerned over the lack of government safety regulations?

More than 4,200 people are treated at emergency rooms every year for injuries they’ve received at water parks. Injuries received include scrapes, broken limbs, concussions, and spinal injuries. There are also drownings that occur at these parks. In June 2015, a two-year-old toddler drowned at a water park here in Virginia. In July 2015, one person drowned and three other people survived near-drownings at multiple parks across the country.

These injury numbers do not account for injuries received out of the pools or slides, and also do not account those victims who are treated at the park without being transferred to local emergency rooms.

So who is in charge of safety at these water parks, as well as amusement parks and carnivals? Who is in charge of protecting the millions of people who could end up being injured victims or worse?

There has been no federal agency oversight of amusement parks since 1981 when Congress pulled the authority from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission because of budget cuts, leaving any kind of regulatory oversight to each individual state.

At least 17 states have not assigned any state agency the responsibility for inspecting permanent amusement park rides. In Kansas, where the boy was killed, amusement parks are only required to be inspected once a year. These inspections are performed by “qualified inspectors” who are hired by the parks themselves.

Under Virginia law, the Department of Housing and Community Development is responsible for ensuring that amusement parks inspections are performed and must be done by a Virginia-certified inspector.

Virginia is home to two of the nation’s most popular amusement parks – Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion. Both of these parks boast thrill-seeking rides, as well as each having their own water parks. Unlike some of the other popular national amusement parks, both of these venues have had a limited number of serious accidents occur. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about some of the area’s smaller venues and traveling carnivals.

Our Virginia and Carolinas injury firm has reported on multiple incidents were victims were killed or seriously injured in amusement park accidents, many of which were caused by mechanical malfunction. In one tragic accident, owners of the rides at a North Carolina state fair tampered with the ride’s safety switch. Five victims were severely injured in that incident, left with life-long injuries including brain damage and blindness.

How many more victims will it take before the federal government finally steps in and puts rules and regulations in place which will hold amusement parks accountable for providing the safest environment possible for families to bring their children to?

In many states, including Virginia, operators of amusement parks are held to a higher duty of care to patrons then regular businesses. Negligence law applies, but this heightened duty of care requirement helps protect consumers that are injured at amusement parks or water slides. Any person suffering personal injuries at an amusement park or water slide located in Virginia or the Carolinas should should consult with a skilled personal injury lawyer.