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All the fun of the fair

As a child, I was never one for fairground rides. I can remember that, at the age of 10, I ventured onto the “big wheel” and I had the misfortune to “get stuck” at the very top for what seemed like an eternity. This apprehension continued into adulthood when, at the age of 18, I went on the “big dipper” at Blackpool. I spent the whole ride cowering in the bottom of the car!

However, it would appear that, in view of the extreme popularity of fairground rides and theme park rides, not everybody shares my apprehension. One has only to look at the popularity of Disneyland to appreciate this. Therefore, I am somewhat surprised that tragedies such as the “Smiler” disaster at Alton Towers do not discourage more people from venturing on fairground rides.

The intense media attention arising out of the Alton Towers Smiler rollercoaster disaster has led to concern over the safety of fairground rides. In handing out a record fine of £5 million following the Health and Safety Executive prosecution against Merlin Attractions (the owners of Alton Towers) Judge Michael Chambers QC commented “…the whole point of these rides is to create an illusion of danger not actually danger itself”. Therefore, one needs to consider how safe these theme parks really are.

The Alton Towers accident was the most significant fairground accident in the United Kingdom since the accident at the Battersea Funfair in 1972 when 5 children were killed following the malfunction on the “big dipper”. According to the Health and Safety Executive, there has only been one fairground related death in the last 7 years. If you consider that, out of more than 1 billion fairground rides, only 35 people are taken to hospital as a result of accidents on the rides per year, it would seem that one is at a greater risk on the journey to the theme park than at the theme park itself. As rides become more complex and customers demand new thrills, it could be argued that the potential risks and the consequences of malfunction are increased.

Whilst it is not possible under section 2 (1) Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 for a person to sign away their rights to pursue a personal injury claim, warning notices are commonly displayed near rides which set out comprehensive lists of ailments and conditions.

This leads one to ask whether operators need to do more to warn and protect their customers? It should be borne in mind that the owners and occupiers of theme parks and fairground rides have a duty to ensure that patrons are not exposed to risks to their health and safety in as far as it is reasonably practicably to do so. This duty extends to rides located in shopping arcades, holiday camps, car boot sales and even private parties. Therefore, an injured person does have a considerable amount of redress.

Author: Janet Lee