- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

First, it was high-dive boards at public swimming pools effectively banned as a result of the threat of possible litigation. Are theme parks and roller coasters America's next "health crisis?" Or just the next target of opportunity for cash-hungry personal-injury lawyers?

Surmising that today's computer-engineered roller coasters and theme rides are higher and faster and exert more G-forces than their rickety wooden predecessors, personal-injury lawyers associated with the Alexandria-based Brain Injury Association are attempting to link brain injuries (and cash settlements) to the G-forces exerted by roller-coaster rides. They have only one problem a shortage of actual victims. In fact, there have only been 58 such "victims" over the past 30 years. Of those, eleven occurred in amusement parks in Europe and Japan; the vast majority of the 47 U.S. cases have only tenuous links to so-called "thrill rides." U.S. amusement parks annually attract millions of paying customers, and the industry's safety record consistently tops most other popular forms of summer recreation, such as riding bicycles, swimming, playing baseball and softball and even bouncing on trampolines, which typically results in scores of head and neck injuries.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found amusement-park injuries averaged just over 2 per 100,000 visits in 2000 down 14 percent from the year before, incidentally. Most of the injuries that occur are self-inflicted by people who ignore numerous warning signs and do dumb things like stand up on rides that require them to remain seated and buckled-up.

Nevertheless, the "roller-coaster lawyers" are successfully trolling for clients by using their association with the BIA to hype the "latest high-risk danger facing American vacationers this summer." They're actively pushing a bill by Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts to bring the nation's amusement parks already heavily regulated at the state and local level under federal jurisdiction, a move that would open the door for a spate of multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuits. Dozens of U.S. newspapers and TV stations have recently done stories on this "latest health crisis" over the last few months. If the personal-injury lawyers are successful, they'll walk away with megabucks awards that could bankrupt some amusement parks and force others to shut down popular attractions or charge higher prices to pay for increased insurance premiums.

That's one ride America's vacationing families shouldn't be forced to take.

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