Release date: August 29, 1980
Release number: 80-032

Release Details

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission late yesterday issued formal complaints involving amusement ride accidents at three major amusement parks located in Texas, California and Illinois.

A two-count complaint was issued against the owner and the operator of the "Skyride" at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas in connection with a fatal accident which occurred on October 21, 1979. The second complaint was issued against the Marriott Corporation which owns and operates "Willard's Whizzer" roller coasters at its Great America amusement parks located in Santa Clara, California (near San Jose), and Gurnee, Illinois (north of Chicago). A fatal accident occurred on March 29, 1980, at the Great America park in Santa Clara.

Both complaints charge that the corporations failed to report to CPSC in a timely fashion -- as is required by law -- potentially hazardous defects in the rides and previous accidents which have caused injuries to consumers. The law permits the Commission to seek civil penalties of as much as $500,000 from a company which fails to report to CPSC a defect that could create a substantial product hazard. The complaint against the State Fair of Texas also seeks correction of existing defects in the Skyride.

Unlike the Skyride complaint, the complaint against the Marriott Corporation does not call for the repair of defects in the Willard's Whizzers. CPSC staff believes that the roller coasters in the Santa Clara and Gurnee parks have been repaired to eliminate known defects.

Texas State Fair's Skyride

At the State Fair of Texas last October a Skyride accident resulted in the death of one man and injuries to 17 other persons when two of the Skyride's gondolas fell approximately 70 feet onto the midway area of the state fair.

The Commission complaint charges that the State Fair of Texas and the operator of the Skyride, Steck and Stapf Attractions, exposed consumers to a "substantial product hazard" through their operation of the Skyride. The staff is seeking to require the owner and the operator promptly to correct defects in the ride. (CPSC is informed that the Skyride has not been in operation since it was shut down after the fatal accident last October.) In the second count of the complaint, the Commission is charging that the State Fair and Steck and Stapf Attractions also violated the law by failing to report information to CPSC from which the State Fair and the operator could conclude that the Skyride contained a defect which could create a substantial product hazard.

Marriott's Great America

The complaint against the Marriott Corporation follows an accident on March 29, 1980, in which a 14-year-old boy was killed and eight other persons injured when two cars of the Willard's Whizzer collided at the Great America park in Santa Clara. In the complaint the Commission charges that Marriott violated the law by not reporting a potential defect in the roller coaster's braking system of which Marriott was aware, according to the Commission, by September, 1979, at the latest.

In addition, CPSC staff is charging that Marriott was aware of at least 11 other instances in the Santa Clara park which occurred between 1976 and 1979 involving collisions in the station area of the roller coaster. A substantial number of injuries occurred in these accidents, although the exact number and severity of injuries remains unknown to the agency; there are believed to have been no fatalities involved in the earlier accidents at Santa Clara.

The CPSC complaint also cites two instances in 1976 in which accidents occurred on the Willard's Whizzer at the Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. One accident on July 24, 1976, resulted in injuries to 13 persons, and a second accident less than a month later (August 18, 1976) injured as many as 18 persons, according to the CPSC complaint.

Both complaints will result in public hearings conducted by a federal administrative law judge who will rule on the complaint at the conclusion of each hearing. The opinion of the administrative law judge, by law, may be appealed to the full Commission. Further appeal to a federal district court is available.

Jurisdiction

CPSC staff has been involved in the potential hazards associated with amusement park rides since the agency's creation in 1973. In 1977 the Commission filed suit against the Chance Manufacturing Co. of Wichita, Kansas, the manufacturer of a ride called the "Zipper". Over a four-year-period prior to 1977, four persons had been killed in four separate accidents when the locking mechanism on the Zipper's door failed, causing the door to open in mid-air. The case was settled out of court.

Since then, CPSC's authority to inspect amusement park rides and to require correction of hazardous defects has been contested routinely in court. The debate centers on whether amusement rides are "consumer products" within the meaning of CPSC statutes. A total of four lawsuits have resulted in three court decisions which uphold the Commission's position that amusement rides are within CPSC's jurisdiction. These cases include the Zipper ride and two Skyride cases (including the Dallas Skyride). Three of the decisions are currently on appeal.

One federal court has ruled that CPSC did not have jurisdiction over a Skyride being operated at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The CPSC complaints were issued on the eve of the Labor Day weekend and at the peak of the seasonal consumer interest in amusement parks, state fairs and carnivals. Statistics compiled by Commission staff indicate that approximately 10 deaths occur every year which are associated with amusement rides at permanent amusement parks and traveling carnivals. There are an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 injuries every year on these rides.

Only 16 individual states have established regulatory programs to inspect amusement rides for safety hazards. CPSC recently adopted a comprehensive plan to encourage all 50 states to adopt uniform safety inspection programs for amusement rides. The Commission employs only 130 federal inspectors for all consumer product safety issues and believes that individual state programs can greatly augment protection for consumers across the country.

CPSC also is helping state officials to develop legislation which would establish programs for amusement ride inspections, and is working closely with a private testing organization in order to encourage the development of voluntary safety standards for amusement rides. In addition, the Commission is acting as a clearinghouse for state safety officials who wish to obtain more information on amusement rides and previous accidents which have occurred on specific amusement rides.

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