Michael Damaso / 07-30-2020 / Theme park accidents

Safety a Concern at Universal’s Volcano Bay after 115 People Injured on Waterslide that Paralyzed Tourist

Volcano BayAt least 115 park guests have reported being injured on the popular water slide attraction, Punga Racers, at Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay, according to court documents recently released in an ongoing Orlando personal injury case against Universal. This information has come to light following a lawsuit filed by a park guest from New York who was paralyzed on the water slide attraction last year. Punga Racers has a history of guests suffering injuries such as concussions and neck whiplash. Documents revealing these injuries were briefly made public on the Orange Circuit Court website.

According to court documents, park guests were not the only people injured. Two injuries were from ride safety testers. Many of these injuries occurred after guests rode down the slide headfirst on mats in one of the four flumes on the ride that end in a catch pool.  Former Universal employees attest to the same, saying this ride injured numerous employees during testing, which resulted in multiple delays and design changes.

Florida requires large theme parks, such as Universal Orlando, to report injuries where visitors end up being hospitalized for at least 24 hours. If injuries occur within the park that do not involve hospitalization, they are not otherwise reported.

One park guest ended up suffering paralysis at Universal’s Volcano Bay. Considering the over 1.5 million guests who have ridden this slide, the fact that his severe injury is the sole one reported since 2017 seems questionable.

The victim’s injury occurred in July 2019 as he came through a wave of water at the end of the ride. His neck snapped back violently, resulting in him being paralyzed. He filed a lawsuit against Universal and the ride’s manufacturer, ProSlide Technology, in October 2019.

A great deal of information has come out in the lawsuit regarding reports involving injuries sustained on the Punga Racers slide. Some of this has included internal Universal communication regarding concerns over the ride’s safety. Discovery in the lawsuit has produced two separate Universal spreadsheets listing various guest injuries sustained on the Punga Racers ride over the last 13 months, occurring primarily in 2017 and 2019.

While these documents are marked confidential and had been kept sealed by court order, they could be viewed publicly on the Orange Circuit Court website as late as Tuesday of this week but have since been taken down.

It is common practice for major theme parks, like Universal, to conduct their own ride inspections and maintain confidential information regarding how injuries are handled. These documents shed a brief light on how these injuries were documented. Since the ride opened in the fall of 2017, it has been tested and refurbished to make necessary safety adjustments. These internal documents showed why these changes were made, including the fact that the ride would routinely fail testing cycles.

Volcano Bay is no stranger to guest injuries. Serious injuries have been reported at Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park, including electrical shock, paralysis, brain injuries and near drownings. In a spreadsheet, Universal indicated when injuries were a result of guests not following the rules of the ride, but injuries also occurred due to the ride’s malfunctioning, as well. However, without the release of these two spreadsheets, we would otherwise not have any knowledge of these injuries since they did not appear in the park’s quarterly injury reports. This information is important, especially for future park guests.

Most states, including Florida, have regular inspection requirements, but that does not mean the inspections are uniform across the board. The Department of Agriculture is tasked with inspecting amusement park rides and water theme parks. However, some of the more popular theme parks in our state, including Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World are exempt from any government inspection and state oversight.  This is due to the fact these parks have more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff.

According to the National Consumer Public Safety Commission (NCPSC), more than 270 million people visit theme parks every year.  Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park is the seventh busiest water park in the world. Without having uniform guidelines and regulations protecting people visiting these attractions, injuries and accidents will continue to occur.  There are things you can do to help prevent injuries at Florida theme parks.  For one, you should never try and ride or leave a ride while it is still moving. Always keep an eye on your children, and if they do not meet the height or weight requirements of the ride, keep them off it. Do not get on a ride while intoxicated. This will not only increase your risk of injury, but it can also impact your ability to collect damages if you are injured while on the ride.

When it comes to malfunctions and accidents resulting from an amusement ride, Florida law requires accidents be reported verbally within four hours of occurring and in writing within 24 hours. These reports must be filed using the Fair Rides Written Accident Report and faxed to (850) 410-3797 or emailed to FairRides@FDACS.gov.

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