The father of a 13-year-old girl who suffered injuries on a ride at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park filed a lawsuit against the company for their role in the incident. The teenage girl sustained a head injury in August 2017 after being knocked from a raft on the ride and then trapped beneath it. Head injuries are one of the most common water park injuries, but exact figures are difficult to determine, as theme parks may not always report incidents.
A push to get Volcano Bay opened on time led to concerns about whether appropriate safety precautions were taken, and other incidents have occurred at the water park since it opened.
Universal currently faces another lawsuit from a man who said he sustained a back injury while on a Harry Potter-themed ride at Universal Studios Hollywood.
13-Year-Old Became Trapped Under 200 Pound Raft as Ride Continued
William McIntyre was visiting Volcano Bay from New Jersey with his family just three months after the new water park had opened in Orlando, on August 23, 2017. McIntyre’s 13-year-old, who is unidentified in the Universal water park lawsuit except by the initials “A.M.”, was on the Puihi of the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides with her parents and other family members and was almost through the ride when the accident occurred.
Volcano Bay’s website describes the Puihi of the Maku Puihi ride as a “multi-person rafting ride that will get your heart pumping” and describes a lava-tube path, a dark winding cavern and an immense funnel where riders experience “the stomach-flipping thrill of zero-gravity hang time.” An image shows six adults seated in a round yellow raft with water splashing around them.
While in the funnel, A.M. was flipped from the raft as it approached the ride’s final pool. According to court documents, the foot of another rider smashed violently into her head. A.M. became trapped beneath 200-pound raft as it continued its trajectory toward the end pool.
“Due to the blow to her head and submersion,” the lawsuit documents read, “(the teenager) may have lost consciousness, as she nearly drowned before a lifeguard pulled her out from the underneath the raft.”
Unable to stand upon being rescued from the water, A.M. was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children by paramedics for treatment. A.M. then sought further treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — closer to A.M.’s home in New Jersey — where brain and vision specialists examined her.
Universal Water Park Lawsuit Cites Negligence
A.M. still suffers vision problems, dizziness, severe headaches, and other health problems from her head injury, as well as nightmares about the incident and fear of the water.
NBCUniversal Media faces accusations of negligence in the design, maintenance and supervision of the ride. At least $15,000 in damages are sought — a much smaller sum than is often sought after traumatic brain injuries, which can have life-long complications.
Universal has not commented on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation, but the family’s attorney says there is a video of the incident that the company has not released to them.
Concussions Among Most Common Injuries at Water Parks
Traumatic brain injuries, namely concussions, are some of the most common injuries to occur at water theme parks. One study, done in 2007, says that of 325 water park injury patients included in the study, 15% had concussions or head injuries.
Concerns About Safety Inspections at Volcano Bay Preceded Opening
Discussions of the safety of Volcano Bay began nearly a year ago, before the water park opened. A May 18, 2017, WFTV news report raised the question of whether the water park, which crews worked overtime to finish, would have enough time to undergo safety inspections and tests.
Rather than being inspected by state officials, big amusement and water park companies such as Universal, Disney World and Legoland use their own inspectors, some of whom are actually manufacturers of the rides. The theory is that these internal investigators can check the safety of the rides more often than state inspectors.
The same way parks like Volcano Bay can self-inspect their rides, they also self-report accidents that happen on those rides. Injury reports become the responsibility of the park owners, who are supposed to file a report every four months or lose the ability to self-inspect.
Complaints and Negative Reviews Plagued Universal’s Water Park
Since Volcano Bay opened, online reviews have been merciless. Visitors complain of disorganization, long lines and a complicated and faulty wristband system. More concerning, there are mentions of rides being delayed for technical issues and closed because of faults.
Some of the water park’s critics say that the problems are caused by rushing to open before being fully ready. Within the first month of opening, a 45-year-old man came forward with complaints of back pain stemming from the Kala Serpentine Body Slide.
Universal Facing Another Lawsuit Over Harry Potter Ride
Another lawsuit has been filed against NBCUniversal Media regarding their theme park division, this one regarding a ride at Universal Studios Hollywood called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”.
Tristram Buckley, who filed the $1 million lawsuit against Universal and Kuka Robotics (who designed a robotic arm used in the ride), says that the ride, “thrashes riders about…whipsawing them back and forth violently.”
After the ride, Buckley says he was nauseous and his body felt tingly. It was only after an MRI that he found out he’d suffered spinal injuries which will require surgery to treat the corresponding pain and numbness.