Water theme parks have increased in popularity over the last several decades. Locals use them to cool off on a hot summer day, and tourists visit resorts with waterparks for weekend family getaways to ride the waterslides, float on the lazy river, and have fun in pools and splash pads. Waterparks provide exciting rides, treats to satisfy every sweet tooth, and a fun atmosphere for kids and adults alike.
But waterpark amusements also come with a risk of injuries. Negligent waterpark owners who do not maintain their attractions in reasonably safe condition put their guests at risk for accidents and injuries. Children are especially vulnerable to injuries at waterparks because of their small stature and often-limited appreciation for risk.
In this blog, we delve into waterpark safety standards, specific causes of waterpark accidents, types of injuries waterpark visitors might suffer, and what you can do if you or your child have suffered injuries at a waterpark.
Waterpark Minimum Safety Standards
Most states have laws and regulations that govern the design, construction, and operation of water slides and waterparks. The specific provisions of those laws vary from state to state, but the laws typically fall in line with industry standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
The minimum standards waterpark owners and operators must meet typically include:
- Creating and implementing written procedures with steps to take after a patron suffers an injury
- Displaying warning signs throughout the park and at the entrance to each ride or waterslide that shows how riders can use it safely
- Providing verbal instructions to visitors that include the rules for using each attraction
- Enforcing physical limitations required for safe enjoyment of an attraction, such as minimum height, maximum weight, and restrictions on use by patrons with certain health conditions
- Developing a communication system between attendants, lifeguards, and other water safety personnel to ensure every waterpark attraction runs as safely as possible
- Keeping patrons off of or away from malfunctioning or broken attractions
- Routinely inspecting waterpark attractions for wear-and-tear, damage, or malfunctions.
- Implementing and enforcing rules barring patrons from using attractions in an unsafe manner.
Failures by waterpark ownership, management, and staff to comply with these and other minimum safety requirements can result in the waterpark facing legal liability for injuries suffered by patrons on their attractions.
Causes of Waterpark Accidents
Today’s waterparks feature a wide variety of water-focused rides and features, many of them relatively unfamiliar to patrons. In fact, part of the fun of a waterpark is the excitement that comes from trying out rides for the first time. On busy days, waterparks can also attract thousands of patrons, posing a challenge for lifeguards and safety staff whose job it is to keep everyone safe.
Unfortunately, the attractions and crowds at waterparks can also amount to a recipe for serious injuries.
Accidents happen when waterparks and their staff:
- Fail to warn patrons on water rides about the risks of the ride, especially those who suffer from serious medical conditions
- Fail to enforce rules about access to and safe use of waterpark attractions
- Become distracted and lose focus on keeping patrons safe
- Fail to have sufficient staffing to keep patrons safe
- Fail to train staff in essential responsibilities necessary for keeping patrons safe
- Fail to maintain and inspect attractions regularly
- Fail to screen water ride passengers by age or height
These and other lapses in reasonable practices at waterparks may trigger devastating accidents and injuries.
Product Liability in Waterpark Accidents
It does not happen frequently, but some waterpark accidents also occur because of defective waterpark equipment. Companies that manufacture water rides, water slides, and other equipment necessary for keeping the water flowing and patrons engaged could face legal liability if defective equipment causes injuries to waterpark patrons.
Lawyers for waterpark accident victims will often explore the evidence to determine if attractions were defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed.
Engineers who design waterslides, water rides, or other water features aim to create an attraction that will excite and enjoy patrons, while also being safe to use. A design defect occurs when engineers fail in this mission and design an attraction that contains a flaw that puts patrons at risk of injury or death. Oftentimes, manufacturers do not discover the hazards of a particular design until patrons start getting injured on an attraction.
After designing a waterpark attraction, manufacturers must build it. A manufacturing defect occurs when something goes wrong during construction, such as human error, poor construction techniques, cheap materials, or any other safety-critical phase of assembling a ride at a waterpark. Quality control processes often catch manufacturing defects, but when they don’t, the consequences could be disastrous.
Information defects, sometimes referred to as marketing defects, refer to the failure to provide operators and users of waterpark attractions with warnings about the proper use of an attraction and any dangers inherent in the attraction.
The same way that the owner and operator of a waterpark must notify visitors of instructions about a ride, the product manufacturer must provide the waterpark with information about possible dangers, weight limits, height limits, and any other information that could impact the safety of someone who uses or rides the equipment. Incomplete information leads to improper use of waterpark equipment, which can cause dangerous accidents and severe injuries.
Types of Waterpark Accidents
A wide range of potentially harmful accidents can happen at a waterpark. Here’s an overview of some common scenarios in which waterpark patrons can get badly hurt.
Slip and Fall Accidents
All commercial property owners have a basic obligation to keep their premises safe for visitors. For owners and managers of waterparks, that obligation is particularly meaningful. Thousands of visitors stream into a park every day, and owners/operators must make sure every inch of ground where they invite visitors to walk is safe. That can be a challenge, considering that many walking areas of a waterpark get and stay wet all day long. Owners/operators must build and maintain all walkways in a manner that prevents slipping and falling as much as possible, even when wet.
Waterparks also face a constant risk of patrons drowning, especially young children. Many waterparks are overcrowded. When too many people play on splash pads, slides, or swimming pools, lifeguards and other safety personnel can struggle to keep tabs on everyone and drownings can occur. This is a particular concern in wave pools and other types of rides that can easily pull a child (or any patron) underwater.
Hidden Dangers on Slides and Other Attractions
Visit waterparks often enough and you are sure to hear stories about patrons who suffered lacerations, abrasions, and hard knocks while going down a slide or playing on an attraction. Water and frequent use take a toll on attractions. Seams in the components of a waterslide can split, nuts and bolts can get exposed and rust, debris can collect underfoot at the bottom of a wave pool, and myriad other hazards can lurk in difficult-to-see spots at a waterpark.
Often, the injuries these dangers cause are, luckily, relatively minor. However, on occasion, they cause severe trauma resulting in disabilities and even fatalities.
Some waterparks feature trains, carts, trams, or shuttle buses that transport patrons around a park, or from parking lots to entrance gates and back. Accidents can happen on these vehicles, particularly if owners and operators of waterparks fail to hire and train qualified drivers or fail to maintain vehicles in a safe condition for passenger transport. Fatigued staff, distracted drivers, and abuse of drugs and alcohol by workers can all exacerbate the danger of accidents and injuries to patrons.
Most waterparks have concessions, cafeterias, and/or restaurants that serve food to patrons. Waterpark employees who work in the park’s food service areas must follow proper food handling practices to keep visitors safe from illness. Food service employees who do not keep meat, dairy, and other perishable items fresh or keep their food prep areas clean, risk giving park visitors a wide range of dangerous, and even deadly, bacterial infections.
Waterparks encourage visitors to have fun, but sometimes patrons go overboard, especially when they have consumed alcohol before entering a park, or consume alcohol on-site. Rowdy behavior can lead to accidents that harm unruly and innocent patrons alike. Waterparks must keep a tight lid on misconduct by patrons, lest it get out of control and causes serious injuries.
Types of Waterpark Injuries
Given the wide range of accidents that can happen at a waterpark, it is perhaps no coincidence that the injuries patrons can suffer also run the gamut from mild to deadly. Here are just some of the injuries waterpark visitors can suffer when owners and operators fail to keep their businesses safe.
Lacerations and Abrasions
A waterslide surface with a small chip, sharp seam-edge, or exposed bolt can cause severe harm to someone whose unprotected skin slides over it. A deep cut or broad abrasion can cause dangerous blood loss, infection, and nerve damage, among other harms. These injuries may also leave patrons with disfiguring scars.
Broken Bones and Orthopedic Injuries
Sometimes waterpark accidents lead to fractures and other orthopedic injuries. Simple breaks may heal quickly with proper care, but bone breaks can also severe acute and chronic pain, limited mobility, and high, unexpected expenses. The worst breaks may even require reconstructive surgery that involves placing screws, plates, rods, and other hardware in a victim’s body.
Neck and Back Injuries
Waterpark accidents, regardless of the type of accident, sometimes lead to neck and back injuries. Neck and back injuries vary greatly, but may feature fractured vertebrae, bulged discs, and soft tissue damage to tendons and ligaments. The most severe of these injuries can also injure the spinal cord and cause permanent paralysis in some or all of the body. However, even injuries that do not cause that sort of catastrophic damage may leave victims with lasting chronic pain and disabilities.
Waterpark accidents can also lead to traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and anoxic brain injuries (those caused by deprivation of oxygen). Falls and drownings at waterparks account for many such injuries. Even the mildest of brain injuries can have lifelong impacts on victims, especially children, who make up the largest part of visitors to waterparks. The human brain does not fully develop until after age 20, so mild injuries can cause significant developmental issues in toddlers, children, and teens.
Taking Legal Action After a Waterpark Accident
Waterpark visitors who sustain injuries because of unreasonably dangerous conditions at a park or unreasonably dangerous actions of park employees may seek compensation for their injuries through legal action.
Every case is different, but legal action against a water park may yield compensation to help victims and their families pay for:
- Medical treatment costs, including ambulance service, emergency room treatment, surgery, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, medication, and nursing care
- Estimated future medical expenses when a waterpark accident causes severe injuries that require ongoing medical treatment, additional surgery, or extensive recovery
- Rehabilitation expenses for treatment from a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, mental health professional, or another specialist who helps accident injury victims cope with their injuries
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Diminished quality of life
- Punitive damages in the (relatively) rare cases in which a waterpark accident occurs because of gross negligence
Proving Liability in a Waterpark Accident Case
Prevailing in a waterpark accident injury claim typically requires proving the waterpark engaged in unreasonably dangerous conduct that led to your injuries and losses. To give yourself the strongest possible chance of recovering the compensation you deserve for waterpark injuries, contact a skilled premises liability attorney as soon as possible. You may have a limited amount of time to take legal action, and the sooner you connect with an experienced personal injury lawyer, the better your chances of holding the waterpark accountable.