Broken limbs, dislocated knees and head injuries at Ohio amusement parks are going unreported

Posted at 9:44 AM, May 29, 2018

A summer night at Cedar Point in northern Ohio in late June of 2015 was nearly over after one more ride for Theron Dannemiller, when the safety gates on the Raptor roller coaster got in his way.

"They started to shut on me," Dannemiller said. "I'm hurt and I look down and I can see the gash...you can see inside my leg."

Dannemiller said something sharp on the gate caused a gruesome cut on the front of his shin that didn't heal for a year and now leaves a nasty scar.

"Most people are not aware that there is no tracking system for these injuries," Tracy Mehan, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Manager of Translational Research said. "We are able to get a feel for what's happening, but it's just an estimate."

The comprehensive data she pulled together is little more than a best guess because no one tracks many of the bumps, bruises and even broken bones from amusement park rides. 

No one, at least, who is willing to share that information."There are people keeping track of the incidents and the injuries, but it's the amusement parks themselves,"  Jarrett Northup, a law partner at Jeffries, Kube, Forrest and Monteleone Co., said.

Northup said in personal injury lawsuits, privately owned amusement parks hold all the cards because the injury data belongs to parks themselves. 

"It's probably data that the corporation feels can be used against them," Northup said.

Cedar Point, for instance, has its own private police department and its own paramedics, so information about who they treat and what for isn't public.

"Having that information readily available to the public would make it easier to hold the amusement parks accountable," Northup said.

There is some park injury information that becomes public when it's reported to the state.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture requires stationary amusement parks, like Cedar Point or Kings Island near Cincinnati, to disclose an incident within 24 hours if it led to an overnight hospital stay. 

But even then, accountability is a challenge.

Reports from the last five years documented many issues that had nothing to do with how the rides operate, like dizziness, elevated heart levels and heart attacks. It also shows that even parks struggle to figure out if an incident needs to be reported because they lose track of the injured person after they go to the hospital.

"If they go to the hospital and don't report that it was an injury due to an amusement ride, we don't see any of that," Mehan said. "So this is just the tip of the iceberg."

In 2013, there's a record of when the state saw the iceberg below the water.

In that report, the Department of Agriculture fined Kings Island $500 for not reporting an injury in 2013 until months later. Kings Island told the state they didn't know the injury created a long hospital stay, requiring a report, until the person who got hurt contacted them months after it happened. 

The park eventually paid the fine, costing them the price of 12 daily admission tickets.

Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland looked for what the state isn't capturing.

Those private police departments and paramedics can't transport injured riders to the hospital, so they have to call local ambulances. 

Just in 2017, the Sandusky EMS call log shows five trips in six months to Cedar Point for injuries like a broken leg while getting on a ride, a dislocated knee from a waterslide and one child who fell off an inner tube and hit his head.

None of those incidents created any report to the state.

Cedar Point and Kings Island, both owned by parent company Cedar Fair, issued the following statement:

"At all Cedar Fair parks including Cedar Point and Kings Island, safety is our top priority. We fully comply with the reporting requirements set by state law.  We constantly evaluate our rides and make necessary corrections if any issues are detected."

There's no reason to doubt that for Cedar Point, Kings Island or any other park. But Mehan says the state law's threshold to report an injury is too high.

"It makes it impossible for us to see trends on a national level which can make it a challenge and more difficult to keep people as safe as possible," Mehan said.

That would include the people with broken bones, potential concussions, and even the people like Dannemiller.

His injury did not trigger a report to the state and in the chaos, while his leg was bleeding, the one ride Dannemiller never got on was in the back of an ambulance.

"Eventually, one of their valets or something gave me a ride to the hospital," said Dannemiller.