A Wyandotte County, Kansas grand jury has returned criminal indictments for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child against a Kansas City water park operator, its corporate parent, and the park’s former manager in connection with the August 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy. In this post, our personal injury and wrongful death lawyer will discuss the problem of water park injuries and the legal remedies that may be available to victims of such accidental injuries.
On August 6th, 2016, 10-year-old Caleb Scott, along with his parents and three siblings, were guests at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, KS. While Caleb and two female park guests were riding a waterslide known as the “Verruct” when the “raft” in which they were riding began to “bounce” and “skim” along the water tube. This “bounce” threw Caleb and the two women upward, causing them to strike a metal hoop that was supporting a “safety netting” that was designed to ensure that a rider could not be thrown cleat of the waterslide in an accident. Caleb was killed instantly from “massive neck trauma” and the two women suffered serious injuries.
According to several independent news sources, the grand jury found evidence to charge park operations manager Tyler Miles with charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment of a child, and obstruction of justice. Two of Schlitterbahn’s senior management, John Schooley and Jeff Henry, were alleged to have been negligent in the construction and testing of the waterslide but were not criminally charged. In summary, the grand jury found evidence that:
- Schlitterbahn did not follow amusement park industry standards in the construction and testing of the Verruct;
- Schlitterbahn did not have expertise in building large waterslides;
- The park’s managers ignored warnings that the Verruct was unsafe, and
- Deliberately suppressed reports of injuries to other visitors prior to Caleb’s death.
The Scott family settled its wrongful death claim against Schlitterbahn Water Park of Kansas City, the company’s corporate parent, and the raft’s manufacturer for an undisclosed amount in January of 2017. News sources report that the Verruct has since been torn down.
Criminal Indictments and Civil Liability
Many people are under the false impression that a criminal charge prevents a civil liability lawsuit from being filed against those who are allegedly responsible for an injury to themselves or to a family member. Nothing could be further from the truth!
A criminal charge means that a defendant is accused of violating an existing law that was “on the books” at the time the alleged violation occurred, and a jury must decide whether the defendant violated a given law. If convicted, a defendant is placed at risk of being jailed, being ordered to pay a fine, or some combination of jail, probation, and a fine whereas the defendant in a civil lawsuit is not at risk of imprisonment. In fact, it isn’t unusual for a civil lawsuit to be filed regardless of the outcome of a criminal case.
Although there are no laws requiring reporting of accident data, water park accidents resulting in relatively minor injuries are more common than park operators will readily admit. According to a study of such injuries that was published in 2013, there are an average of four deaths per year at these facilities and other theme parks in the United States. During the same period, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that over 13, 000 injuries serious enough to require medical treatment occurred in the nation’s theme parks. Many of these injuries were to the necks and backs of park visitors.
If you or a family member were injured in an amusement park accident, you may be certain that the park will not be forthcoming with its records regarding other park accidents and injuries. For this reason alone, you should retain the services of a personal injury lawyer to advise you of your legal right to demand compensation for your injuries. Only an experienced personal injury lawyer will have the training and experience necessary to protect your rights following an amusement park accident.