Friday, August 3, 2007

Freak Amusement Park Accident Severs Girl's Feet

New York Times Blog: By Patrick J. Lyons
Your stomach falls out at the thought of it: a 13-year-old girl is happily enjoying an amusement-park ride one minute, and is grotesquely injured the next.

It happened late Thursday afternoon at a Six Flags park in Kentucky, on one of those tower-drop rides. Something - perhaps a snapped cable, it isn’t clear yet - suddenly whipped across the girl’s shins and severed both her feet.

UPDATE: Bill Clary, a spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Regulation and Inspection, which has oversight over amusement parks, said this afternoon that a frayed cable on the ride snapped and hit the girl’s legs. That agrees with what witnesses have told CNN...

But there’s no denying the public’s morbid fascination with such stories, or the news media’s, especially at a time like the end of June, when school is letting out and jubilant children are pouring into the nation’s theme parks to start the summer off with a bang.

The very essence of an amusement-park ride is imitation danger: getting to enjoy all the adrenaline-pumping thrill of a seemingly life-threatening experience without risking any real harm, testing one’s courage and mettle when the price of falling short won’t be worse than a red face and maybe a lost lunch.

Perhaps that is why this kind of incident tugs at the mind so strongly, in a world where accidents of other sorts claim young lives and limbs every day to scant public notice. When pretend danger proves to be real danger, for us or especially for our children, we feel not only frightened but betrayed.

The amusement industry winces at the attention paid to these accidents, of course, and on a statistical level they have a point - serious injuries and deaths caused by amusement park rides are pretty rare, and the reputable park operators go to considerable trouble and expense to keep them that way.

Still, they happen, and they resonate - to the point that elaborate web sites are devoted to tracking them, like and an accident page on Theme Park Insider, which also includes a list of safety tips for parkgoers. ...

Amusement park accidents are a fixture of Torts courses, particularly regarding the tort doctrine of "assumption of the risk" (also a feature of much individual tobacco litigation). Interesting aspects of this story include the juxtaposition of perceptions of risk ("imitation danger" and "testing one’s courage and mettle") with statistical evidence of the rarity of serious injuries and the feeling of betrayal when such an accident actually occurs.

I'll leave it at that, since I may want to return to this incident in future teaching (and perhaps exams...) in my Torts classes...

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