Amusement Parks – What If The Worst Were To Happen?
Author: Jason Snyman
With Ratanga Junction closing down, rollercoaster junkies are left with few amusement park options. But, what if the worst were to happen?
The Ratanga Junction amusement park has long been one of Cape Town’s most popular attractions during school holidays. It has, however, been recently announced that they will be shutting their doors.They added new attractions just three years ago, including zip lines, jumping castles, paddle boats and jungle gyms. Their main attraction – The Cobra – travels at a speed of 100 km/h. With more twists and turns than an early M. Night Shyamalan film, we’ve all lost a pair of sandals flying around those bends.However, back in 2005, The Cobra rollercoaster shuddered to a halt high above the ground. It left riders battered by strong gusts of wind, suspended in their seats, screaming and crying on the verge of a heart attack for three hours. Of the 16 people aboard, one 14-year old boy suffered minor neck injuries. The rest were only traumatized for life, forever flinching at the sound of carnival music.Fortunately, the rollercoaster got stuck in the upright position. Seconds later it would have swung the riders upside down.Back then, just before the new owners took over – the closure of the park seemed inevitable. Yet, Ratanga survived for another decade. Now, the bell tolls once more for the ‘Wildest Place In Africa’ – with the doors set to close for good in May 2018.
Director of the Rabie Property Group, John Chapman, has said that the closure of Ratanga has been on the cards for a while. The oversized property, inconsistent demand for a theme park, seasonal weather, expensive maintenance and running costs, as well as the ageing equipment have all contributed to an unprofitable facility.What’s going up in its place? According to Chapman, it will be redeveloped into a ‘vibrant mixed-use precinct’ and would ‘embrace the existing canals, island, and public open space. [It will] include residential apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants and convenience retail.’Ratanga will offer special ticket prices to theme park goers from September 29 to October 8 as a "thank you" to the public for its support. After that, what do hardcore thrill seekers have to look forward to?We asked the question, what if the worst would happen to you in one of these amusement parks? And also, reminisced a bit about the other parks (still running) in sunny South Africa. Enjoy them while you can, folks.
The Thrill Is Gone
Johannesburg is, in itself, a chaotic theme park. Back in 2008, things went awry at Emperors Palace when a rollercoaster unhinged, toppled to its side and collapsed 1,5m to the ground.Seven people were rushed to hospital having sustained neck and back injuries. There are no CCTV cameras (in a casino?) where the incident took place. However, management at the time maintained that the rides were inspected just a week prior.Carte Blanche luminaries, Gold Reef City, have also faced a number of struggles in the past. From nuts and bolts shooting loose during rides to turning ‘disabled’ children away, they’ve weathered their share of public disdain. Reports back in 2013 claimed that there is also acidic water slowly rising up within the mine upon which the park is built.In a gigantic defamation case, Gold Reef City claimed R47 million from Carte Blanche and M-Net for the story they ran on the park. In the story it was alleged that there were rusty and unsafe steel rails at their theme park. Judge Caroline Nicholls ruled that the Carte Blanche story was ‘blatantly one-sided’ and Gold Reef walked away victorious.Thankfully, South African amusement parks have remained relatively incident-free. Compared to the accident-prone theme parks of the US or Europe, we’re doing quite alright. Disneyland, for instance, is riddled with accidents and fatalities.What would happen, though, if the worst occurred and turned your afternoon of adventure into full blown terror?
Theme park incidents aren’t commonplace, but they can and do happen. When they do – it’s well publicized. For ride manufacturers, general liability insurance is huge in terms of coverage. When these amusement park catastrophes occur, that’s when their policies may kick in. This depends on where and with whom the blame lies.It’s often a fine line. The manufacturer sells the ride to the park. If something happens you’ve got to figure out why it happened, what caused it or whether it was a product defect issue. It could be the ride operator who didn’t fasten the harnesses properly. Perhaps the park hasn’t been maintaining the rides.Adults are generally expected to anticipate and avoid a certain level of risk to themselves and their dependents. The owners of these parks try avoid exposure to liability for injury by displaying disclaimer notices or by asking you to accept standard contracts containing exclusion or exemption clauses. They hope these will indemnify them against claims.Sometimes these contracts are signed, like when a school asks you to sign an indemnity form for your children on an outing. Sometimes the acceptance of the contract is implicit – such as the purchase of a ticket to an amusement park.
Do You Stand A Chance?
Most courts may find that an adult assumes the risk in using the rides, but you might still stand a chance. There are four possible bases for liability:1. Negligence: If a ride was not in a safe condition, improperly maintained or inspected, or if a park employee gave the visitor improper instructions, failed to provide proper warnings about the dangers of the ride, or operated the ride in such a way that the visitor was hurt.2. Product liability:Product liability may be found if a ride was so inherently dangerous that proper maintenance, inspection and use could not have prevented the injury. An injured person may sue both the manufacturer and the park, but must show that the manufacturer could have used an alternative design that would have prevented the injury. In addition, the person suing must also show that the park owner failed to use reasonable care when deciding to have the ride at all.3. Premises liability: Property owners must exercise reasonable care in the construction, management and maintenance of all grounds and facilities. Failure to do so will make the owner liable for injuries suffered by people invited onto the property for business purposes, such as a park visitor.4. Wrongful death:This is a death due to the careless, reckless or negligent act of another.As customers, we need to be aware of disclaimer notices up around these parks and what they say. Most of the time, they clearly state that no responsibility will be undertaken by the park if anything were to happen to you on their rides. You do so at your own risk… And if you stand up on a spinning teacup, you do so at your own stupidity.
If you are planning on filing a lawsuit against an amusement park or manufacturer of a ride, you'll need to consult an experienced attorney. Before speaking with them, though, you need to do the following:
Collect evidence - take photos of the scene of the accident and record all the action taken by the park immediately after the incident;
Getting medical attention - you need to visit a doctor to evaluate the full extent of your injuries. You won't know how much money to claim if you don't know the nature of your injuries, the prognosis for recovery, and the necessary short or long term treatment;
Document all your losses - from lost wages, missed business opportunities, to additional costs required for treatment. Make sure you keep documents that show all your losses and costs associated with the injury;
Keep all insurance and hospital paperwork. In the period before collecting money in a lawsuit, you will likely need medical attention. Keep track of all hospital invoices and insurance payments - paperwork is crucial to lawsuits;
Do not talk to anyone about your injuries or your case. Saying the wrong thing to an opposing attorney or insurance adjuster can compromise your claim. If you are questioned about the accident, you are free to take the time to speak to an attorney.