Amusement Park Accident Attorney Questions Safety of Giant Ferris Wheels Where Passengers Sit Unrestrained in Open Gondolas
Giant wheels are Ferris wheel type rides in which passengers sit in open gondolas. Passengers are carried upward to heights of 60 or more feet, and in some cases,150 to 165 feet, and then back to the ground in a gentle circular motion. Typically, individual gondolas accommodate up to six adults on a bench that usually does not have seat belts or passenger restraints.
On June 18, 2006, a 6-year-old boy fell to his death from a giant wheel at a county fair in Stockton, California. Because the child had met the amusement operator’s minimal 42 inch height requirement, he was permitted to go on the ride alone while his mother and boyfriend watched from the ground. The child remained seated for the duration of the ride cycle. However, when the ride stopped to begin unloading passengers at the bottom, the child was scared and stood up in the gondola, which was near the top, to look down at his mother and despite frantic instructions from his mother to sit down, he fell to his death out of the gondola.
At many local Pennsylvania amusement parks, including amusement parks at the New Jersey shore, similar giant Ferris wheels are currently in operation without restraints. An investigation was commenced after the fatal California Ferris wheel accident and amusement park operators agreed to no longer allow persons of any age to ride on the giant wheel alone. As a matter of fact, Chance Ride Manufacturing, which manufactured all or most of the giant wheels, including the Ferris wheel involved in the California tragedy, also issued a service bulletin that specified among other things that “all children must be accompanied by an adult guardian, chaperone, or other supervising person” and emphasized that there be “no single riders”.
The Ferris wheel which seems like an innocent looking and safe amusement ride can actually be one of the more dangerous amusements when proper safety precautions are not taken and when the wheel is improperly maintained. Voluntary human behavior can lead to accidents due to improper signage, training, ride supervision, and the allowance of single riders. Amusement park owners and operators always argue that the Ferris wheels themselves are mechanically safe and are so determined during routine inspections and further note that the installation of seat belts or gondola closures would be incompatible with existing design specs and that making such suggested alterations would be very expensive and constitute an unnecessary hardship for operators.
As an experienced amusement park attorney in Philadelphia who has spent a considerable amount of time investigating amusement park accidents including Ferris wheel disasters, I do not believe that the cost of placing a restraint system in a Ferris wheel would be overly expensive and once again emphasize that safety must always take priority over profitability. A respected amusement park safety expert and designer of Ferris wheels and amusement restraint systems working on a pending amusement accident fatality with our office stated that a big wheel restraint system could be added for approximately $100 per seat, a small price to pay for safety.
It is foreseeable that when young passengers travel on a Ferris wheel alone or in a small group, they may not be educated as to the risks or dangers inherent with the ride. If gondolas have no restraining devices, it is possible for passengers to stand up while the ride is in operation, throwing the gondola out of balance and creating an unsafe situation.