Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Last year, a young boy tragically died on the "Old Mill" ride at Playland in Rye, New York. The ride is a gentle boat ride, where the boats float through dark tunnels and past mildly spooky scenes. The boy, seven years old, went on the ride by himself. While nobody witnessed how he died, the best guess appears to be that he may have gotten scared, climbed out of the boat, and struck his head.
The boy's mother, through her attorney, has proposed a state-implemented rating system for amusement rides, along the lines of movie ratings (though those, of course, are at least nominally voluntary). The proposal seems interesting beyond the very small number of law profs doing amusement safety (I think I'm half of that universe, with Chad Emerson being the other half) for a couple of reasons.
First, like many state court regulatory schemes, it comes out of a high-profile tragedy, in this case higher-profile due to a death a year earlier on a ride at the same publicly-owned park. The earlier death had some surface similarities in that it involved a young child on a dark ride.
Second, the proposal promises simple solutions, but I think the reality is that such a ratings system is quite unlikely to do much to increase safety. This likely failure is due partially to state regulators not being the right people to do such a thing (they generally know mechanics, not the psychology of kids, for example), and due partially to evidence that ratings that exist are rather uniformly ignored.
The facts of the case raise interesting questions about the obligations of manufacturers to anticipate misuse by consumers, especially in cases where the ride is designed to -- at least a little bit -- scare kids and where kids are permitted to ride alone. I've found similar facts to be a good foundation for a discussion in both Torts and Products Liability classes.