What Really Caused the Roller Coaster Death at Six Flags?

Rosa Ayala-Goana was killed on July 19th when she fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas theme park in Arlington, Texas.

Rosa fell to her death in full view of other park goers. Her son and daughter-in-law were riding in the car in front of her.

Shortly after the tragic accident occurred, Six Flags officials said that they would be working with area law enforcement and other agencies to determine the cause of the accident. It has recently been noted that the theme park is actually investigating itself in this matter. There are no federal agencies, which have been given the authority to enforce safety standards at the parks.

Amusement park standards are set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International, which is made up of consumer advocates, government officials, amusement park operators, ride manufacturers and industry suppliers. This organization establishes and reviews safety standards for amusement park rides.  By the way, all these standards are voluntary.

Amusement parks are also subject to state and local government codes, requirements and safety inspections, and they must pass inspection by insurance companies. But an NBC News investigation revealed Texas is one of at least 17 states that have no agency responsible for inspecting amusement park rides, as designated by state code.

The Texas Giant roller coaster was built by Gerstlauer Amusement Rides. They have been manufacturing rides for the past 30 years and are based in Munsterhausen, Germany. Two years ago, Rocky Mountain Construction of Hayden, Idaho rebuilt the roller coaster ride.

The Texas Giant is 14 stories high, and has a drop of 79 degrees and a bank of 95 degrees. It can carry up to 24 riders. It underwent a $10 million renovation to install steel-hybrid rails and reopened in 2011.

An independent inspection of the ride would have been conducted by the Texas Insurance Department, which requires an annual inspection to certify that the rides meet ASTM standards. However, the inspection is performed by an employee or contractor of the insurance company, not by a government authority.

According to a survey by NBC News of state codes in all 50 states, eight states required no permits or inspections for amusement park rides:  Alabama; Mississippi; Montana; South Dakota; Utah; Vermont; West Virginia; and Wyoming. Additionally, seven states, including Texas, accept recommendations and safety approval from park-employed or contracted inspectors or from insurance company inspectors:  Texas; Arizona; Colorado; Delaware; Idaho (requires only electrical inspections); Missouri, and North Dakota.

Additionally, NBC News found that Florida does not require inspections for permanent facilities that employ 1,000 or more full-time employees and maintain their own safety inspectors; and Minnesota allows inspectors contracted by the park or by the State Agricultural Society. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only has jurisdiction over mobile amusement park rides, rides that are transported from location to location.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is the largest international trade association for permanently situated amusement parks worldwide. In its core beliefs statement, the IAAPA says, “Safety is the foundation of our profession and top priority.”

In March, the IAAPA published a report citing statistics that in 2011, 4.3 in 1,000,000 people who visited an amusement park or attraction sustained an injury on a ride. This report was based on a survey of parks that self-reported injuries on their property. The data did not include any reports of deaths. However, only 144 of 383 amusement parks in the U.S. with rides responded to the survey.

The Amusement Safety Organization recorded four “significant injuries” on the Texas Giant roller coaster ride in 2013, and seven in 2012, all for whiplash-like neck injuries.

Witnesses told the Dallas Morning News that Ms. Ayala-Goana was worried about her safety restraint before the ride left the station, but Six Flags employees assured her it would be fine.  Carmen Brown told the News that she was waiting in line to get on the Texas Giant when the accident happened and witnessed the woman being strapped in.

“She goes up like this. Then when it drops to come down, that’s when it (the safety bar) released and she just tumbled,” Brown, of Arlington, told the newspaper. “They didn’t secure her right. One of the employees from the park, one of the ladies, she asked her to click her more than once, and they were like, ‘As long as you heard it click, you’re O.K.’ Everybody else is like, ‘Click, click, click.’

“Hers only clicked once. Hers was the only one that went down once, and she didn’t feel safe, but they let her still get on the ride,” Brown said.

The ride was closed until the Six Flags’ investigation is complete, and the ride is inspected and approved by the Department of Insurance.

It is a shame that Ms. Ayala-Goana did not feel secure in her seat and was heard voicing her concern to the ride attendant, who told her that she was ‘O.K.’ She was anything but ‘O.K.’  Do you think the ride was defective, or was the attendant negligent? Feel free to comment on this blog post.  Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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