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From outdoor adventure parks to backyards, ziplines give riders an exhilarating experience. As a result, these activities involving a thick, fixed cable between two large objects have seen a surge in popularity all over the country – and the lawsuits over injuries and malfunctioning have also followed.
It used to be that, to find a zipline, you’d have to get to a remote location, but now, your local amusement park or adventure course might even have one. Regulations, however, haven’t kept up with demand, and as no federal standards exist for ziplines, states are left picking up the slack. Because of this loophole, setting up one of these fixtures isn’t too difficult, and your park might not even actively be monitored.
A recent study, however, shows that ziplines’ popularity coincides with a rise in injuries. In response, those severely injured after engaging in what they thought would be an afternoon of adventurous fun have been filing lawsuits against the manufacturers and operators.
Risks & Injuries
A 2015 study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that, between 1997 and 2012, 17,000 individuals were treated for zipline-related injuries, but from 2009 onward, the amount surged 70 percent. For the last three years, ziplines accounted for 10 injuries per day on average.
But, the researchers behind the study found that injuries aren’t distributed evenly across all ages. Rather, most involve children, and those under 10 years of age account for 45 percent of the total. Those in the 10 to 19 age bracket made up 33 percent.
Based upon this study and other reports, passengers can experience a range of injuries when falling from or otherwise getting injured by a zipline:
- Broken bones
- Concussions and closed head injuries
- Long-term chronic pain
- Neurogenic bladder problems
- Spine injuries
- Tissue damage
- Dental damage
- Organ damage
Eleven percent of all such injuries result in hospitalization.When further looking at these injuries and where they occurred, researchers found that most happened at sport and recreation facilities, including education centers, canopy tours, adventure courses, amusement parks, and summer camps. However, nearly all of these fall under the private facilities umbrella, and thus, they’re not required to purchase insurance and aren’t regulated by states. Because these facilities are nearly always open to the public, they pose a significant safety hazard, of which the rider usually isn’t aware.
In all locations, including backyards with personal systems, several common scenarios may result in falls and other injuries:
- The equipment isn’t installed correctly.
- The equipment isn’t being used properly. Particularly, at certain commercial locations, the operator stops the safety brake too soon, requiring the rider to climb down from the zipline. Or, the operator may not apply the safety brake at all, causing the rider to collide into the platform at a speed of 35 to 40 MPH.
- The zipline wire gets tangled when a rider’s on it.
- The rope holding the rider’s seat separates from the zipline.
- The park owners don’t regularly maintain the equipment. This can affect key components like the harness and pulley.
- The rider collides into a tree or another stationary object while on the zipline. This can happen when nearby trees or bushes aren’t cut back from the zipline’s path and continue to grow where a rider may pass.
- The park owners don’t put safety devices in place.
- The course itself is poorly designed, with multiple hazards within its setup.
- The rider slips out of the seat, falling anywhere from 10 feet to multiple stories down onto the ground.
More and more outdoor facilities have added ziplines to their array of activities, increasing from just 10 in 2001 to over 200 in 2012, in addition to 13,000 amateur-operated ones at camps, backyards, and educational programs. Because of this rapid proliferation and the lack of federal oversight, many are at risk for a zipline injury and likely don’t know it.
What happens if you or a loved one is injured after riding a zipline? As these lawsuits fall under the broad category of amusement park injuries, you can pursue a product liability, personal injury, or wrongful death claim against:
- The amusement park owner
- Park workers operating the zipline
- The zipline manufacturer
- The ride or course designer
- Any cruise line, ranch, or resort that recommended the activity but doesn’t otherwise operate the zipline.
What if you previously signed a waiver? Realize that, even though riders supposedly understand the risks, parks and manufacturers aren’t exempt from creating and setting up safe equipment. Thus, they’re still responsible for any injuries sustained from incorrect operation, a lack of safety features, and poor maintenance and need to be held accountable for their negligence.