Read this story, please.
Then consider the 10 questions below.
A summary of the main points…
Luke Gibbs’ wife, Rachel, mother of two, was rendered permanently vegetative after a go-kart accident at a Michigan amusement park, the Family Fun Center, near Grand Rapids. A long scarf she was wearing got caught in one of the go-kart’s axles, snapping her windpipe.
She is now in a long-term care center southwest of London. Her husband is certain that this would never have occurred in England, because the country has more regulations. “There’s no agency in the United States that can say to my children, who are American citizens, this is the way in which we worked to protect your mother and keep her safe,” he said. “I’m confident that accident would not have happened here, part because I think we have more stringent regulation,” he added.
- Parks are exempted from federal regulation, leaving supervision to the vagaries of the states, and six have no oversight: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. In the early 1980s, park operators successfully lobbied to shield amusement parks from federal oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Starting in 1999, Senator Edward J. Markey sought to mandate federal oversight, but Disney successfully lobbied against it, along with its competitors.
They argued that the federal regulation was not necessary. Industry studies say there is only a one in 17 million chance of injury at fixed-site parks. The safety commission estimates there were 29,400 amusement ride injuries requiring emergency treatment last year at all types of parks, including inflatable attractions and even coin-operated rides at shopping malls.
Mobile parks with rides that can be moved, like carnivals and state fairs, are not exempted from federal regulation.
- When Rachel Gibbs wife was injured, the park appeared unprepared for an emergency. The ride’s operators panicked, and momentarily couldn’t recall the park’s address so emergency vehicles could be called, and could not provide the injured woman with a defibrillator
A 2007 internal memorandum from the park admonished employees to “never admit fault for accidents,” adding, “our common phrase is ‘AJ’s is an at your own risk Fun Park.’”
- “After a Freedom of Information request, the state turned over four pages of records related to the accident: notes scrawled by an AJ’s employee, state inspection notices and a brief finding that the park complied with state law and had “warnings about securing loose clothing.” Neither the state nor the park would provide further details; AJ’s promotional material pictured a woman driving a kart with flowing hair and a long necklace.
In the aftermath, facing large American medical bills, Mr. Gibbs, who works as a spokesman for the agrochemical company Syngenta, settled with a holding company connected to the park, ultimately owned by local entrepreneurs Gregory and Lori Van Boxel. There was never a judgment or finding of negligence. He is considering further legal action against the owners.”
1. The underlying tone and thrust of the article is that the U.S. does not regulate the parks sufficiently. This is achieved by concentrating on the single tragedy. Is this fair reporting, or is it inherently manipulative?
2. Should the Times be in the business of promoting regulations?
3. I was shocked that there were 29,400 amusement ride injuries in a year. We have a lot of amusement parks and rides. Why didn’t the Times say how many fatalities and serious injuries there were? I suspect that it is because the number does not support the writer’s pro-regulation agenda.
4. Disney, which made headlines when a child was killed on a ride recently because accidents in the Magic Kingdom are so rare, has proven that it regulates itself extremely well. Is Disney wrong to oppose government regulations and dictatorial government bureaucrats, neither of which have anywhere near the record of care and competence that Disney has?
5. When is it ethical to use one incident, one tragedy, to justify sweeping new regulations, and expenses, on an entire industry?
6. If the ride really did have warnings about securing loose clothing, doesn’t that shift at least some of the responsibility to the victim?
7. Or is the assumption that if someone suffers enough, they can never be blamed?
8. Is it the government’s proper function to eliminate all risk and personal responsibility? Is it the news media’s proper function to advocate that position?
9. That internal memorandum is left hanging to sound sinister. In fact, every organization has a similar policy, and should. Employees are not the arbiter of fault in negligence scenarios, and their spontaneous expressions of regret can cost millions of dollars. Is it fair to include such a sentence without clarifying this?
10. A husband whose wife has been tragically disabled is inherently biased regarding amusement parks. Is his opinion that his wife would have been saved by more vigorous regulations useful? Misleading? Prejudicial?
A last note: My mother had a life-long horror of long scarves after learning about the death of dancer Isadora Duncan. The international celebrity was killed, as any viewer of the film “Isadora,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, knows, as a passenger in a brand-new convertible sports car that she was learning to drive. “Duncan leaned back in her seat to enjoy the sea breeze, and her enormous red scarf (“which she had worn since she took up communism,” one newspaper reported) blew into the well of the rear wheel on the passenger side. It wound around the axle, tightening around her neck and dragging her from the car onto the cobblestone street. She died instantly.” The date was September 14, 1927. “Affectations,” said Gertrude Stein when she heard the news of Duncan’s death, “can be dangerous.”
So can cultural illiteracy. More and better education might have saved Rachel Gibbs’ life more surely than additional regulations.