In the most recent CSI episode, “Cold-Blooded“, which aired on CBS on October 28, 2010, the Crime Scene Investigation team are called in to investigate the death of college student Brian Barry (Nate Hartley). Barry, a paleontology student at fictional WLV University, is found dead in the desert.  Head investigator Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) discovers that the night previous he attended “Walking with Dinosaurs” with his girlfriend Jane Lewis (Nora Kirkpatrick).  “Walking with Dinosaurs” is an interactive show which forms part of a larger museum and amusement park venue dedicated to the extinct form of life.

Langston explores the origins of Barry’s bodily injuries and learns that Barry died from a head injury, after a brief stint in the life-size T-Rex’s mouth. The next step is to decipher whether his death should be ruled a homicide or an accident. Video surveillance shows Jane making out with her seat neighbor, Travis Kilborn (James Immekus), while Barry went for a snack. This alerts suspicion that Lewis is somehow involved in Barry’s death because she failed to mention the relationship when intially questioned. Dr. Langston elicits a confession from the pair: after the show, the three drunkenly explored the exhibit. Barry, feeling especially brave, decided to climb atop the dinosaur to get a closer look. He failed miserably: he lost his footing and landed on the teeth of the T-Rex. His teeth sunk into Barry’s ribcage. Instinctively the man pushed himself off and fell to the floor, dying instantly. This tragic accidental death leads to the issue of amusement park regulations and liabilities.

The US Product Safety Commission’s report states that in 2002, approximately 3,000 injuries were caused by amusement park rides and about 2,500 were caused by inflatables. The report divides the injury cases into six categories: not a ride, fixed-site, mobile, unknown site, unknown if ride, and inflatable. The US Product Safety Commission report serves as an efficient tool that highlights the discrepancy in the state regulation of amusement park rides. Stateline, a website dedicated to state policy and politics published an article in 2000 that discusses the issue further stating that New Jersey boasts the safest amusement parks, while as many as twelve states do not have regulations to protect amusement park visitors.

According to the organization Saferparks, Nevada, where the fictitious Crime Scene Investigation team is based, does not have statewide ride safety laws. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is the only county that does have some regulations on the matter.

The present case falls under the fixed-site provided by the Commision’s report because it happened at the park, but not while on  a ride. It is unlikely that Barry’s family will be able to recover under a wrongful death action because he was a trespasser after hours at the park. According to Nevada Statute 455B.070  , “a person who boards an amusement ride without authority or without paying the appropriate consideration will be deemed a trespasser.” Furthermore, the statute states, “a passenger who has attained the age of thirteen years shall be deemed to have knowledge of and assume the inherent risks of an amusement ride to the extent that as those risks are open and obvious to the reasonable person.” Although Brian was not on a ride, it is reasonable to infer that simply being on the premises after hours will also be deemed as trespassing. Additionally, because Brian was a college student, he should have reasonably inferred that he could incur injury while climbing the dinosaurs.

Additionally, Brian was under the influence of alcohol. Nevada Statute 455B.080 prohibits passengers from using an amusement park ride if under the influence of any controlled substance. Although Brian was not on a ride when he died, his alcohol induced state while at the park would not help his family’s wrongful death claim because his state showcases his own negligence.

The present case poses an interesting dilemma because it deals with a tragic occurrence that happened at an amusement park, but not as a result of one of the rides.  More in-depth research shows that this is not uncommon. An interesting article in the Orlando Sentinel observes that a lot of the lawsuits surrounding amusement parks are due to slip and fall claims. Law professors in the article expressed their surprise that more lawsuits aren’t filed, considering the extensive possibilities that exist for tort lawsuits on park grounds. The article provides informative facts on these lawsuits: a lot of them are settled out of court and plaintiffs wait some time before filing the suit.

The article also illustrates examples of past lawsuits in Florida and Puerto Rico, but does not mention any other states where these lawsuis have taken place. Nevada does not have precedent in slip and fall cases at amusement parks, and thus, it is unclear how the Nevada courts would rule in the instant case.

For a list of Nevada theme parks, click here.

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