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What next? Air bags on bumper car rides?

POSTED January 4, 2013 8:22 p.m.

Smriti Nalwa and her 9-year-old son partook in an American pastime back in 2005.
They went on the bumper car ride at Great America in Santa Clara.
Her son was driving. And - as one would expect on a bumper car ride - they got bumped. At one point they got bumped from the front and then from behind. Nalwa placed her hand on the dashboard to brace herself. She ended up breaking her wrist.
So Nalwa decided to partake in another American pastime - suing.
Her attorney argued that Great America was liable as they could have done more to reduce the threat of a head-on collision. If they did, of course, they'd be no point to bumper cars and no overriding reason for a 9-year-old boy to want to drive one. After all, the cars that simply move around in a circle letting you think you're steering are lame unless you're a tyke.
The trial court ruled that Great America had no control over the operation of individual bumper cars and patrons took an inherent risk in participating. The lower court compared it much like playing football or other sports.
Of course, this did not satisfy Nalwa. She apparently was after more than just covering the cost of repairing her broken wrist.
Her attorney got the appeals court to decide a 9-year-old driving a bumper car and getting bumped wasn't the same as a 9-year-old playing Pop Warner football and getting tackled. Besides that obvious observation, the court also said Great America should have done more to reduce the threat of a head-on collision. Never mind the fact a minor injury could also occur from a rear bump or a side bump.
Perhaps they should install air bags in the bumper cars. Or, better yet, maybe the court could have suggested that Great America was creating an attractive nuisance by encouraging people to bump others with bumper cars.
The California Supreme Court had enough of the nonsense. They determined once a person plunked down cash for the privilege of riding in a bumper car they automatically assume some risk in normal operating conditions.
Short of Nalwa's attorneys being able to successful make a federal case out of a broken wrist on a bumper car ride, the California Supreme Court appears to have saved at least one childhood pleasure for kids.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates 9,000 injuries are caused yearly as the result of a mishap on an amusement ride. The overwhelming majority of injuries are small in nature - bruises and such.
An average of 4.5 people die each year in amusement park accidents. However, not one has done so in a bumper car collision.
Had the higher court lowered the bar for personal risk assumption you could have kissed carnivals and amusement parks good-bye or else have seen ride tickets sky rocket.
Bumper car rides are not the only risk taking for amusement that many folks believe should be without consequences on their part.
The death of 14 visitors last year to Yosemite Park generated a loud chorus of folks believing the National Park Service hadn't done enough to warn people about the dangers of venturing out into the wild.
Even in rare spots where the park service erected barriers and warning signs such as on the Mist Trail, there was a whining that there wasn't enough done. Out in the middle of nowhere there is a rail placed along the Merced River with warning signs and that's not enough?
You see other people bump into each other in bumper cars and somehow you don't think it is a bit risky?
Life is not without risk. But try telling that to the Smriti Nalwas of the world. Perhaps Nalwa should cut to the chase and sue her parents. After all, if they hadn't brought her into this world she never would have suffered the trauma of getting her wrist broken while paying for the privilege of riding in a bumper car.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

 

 

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