Not one, but two bills protecting operators of carnival or amusement rides from lawsuits by injured riders have surfaced in the Idaho Legislature.
One, proposed by Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, on behalf of Silverwood Theme Park, is a toned-down version of legislation vetoed last year by Gov. Phil Batt.
The other, proposed by Sen. Clyde Boatright, R-Rathdrum, on behalf of the Nampa firm that has run the Kootenai County Fair’s midway carnival the last four years, gives sweeping protections to carnival operators or anyone else who operates or owns amusement rides.
Both bills have drawn heavy fire from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Boise, the Senate majority leader.
“It isn’t just amusement rides,” Risch said. “In the 17 years I’ve been here, virtually every industry comes in at some point wanting some type of protection from lawsuits when they make mistakes. I’m against that.”
“It just isn’t fair,” Risch said.
Boatright received a $500 campaign contribution this year from Reed Williams, owner of the Nampa carnival company. Crow received a $125 contribution from Silverwood.
Boatright, who serves on the county Fair Board, said he was glad to propose his bill on behalf of Inland Empire Shows because the firm has been one of the best carnival operators the Kootenai County Fair has had.
“I’m eager to do it for him because he is a real prudent operator,” Boatright said.
Crow said, “Silverwood has always been a conscientious, involved neighbor. They have earned the right to limit their exposure to liability from people who (behave irresponsibly).”
Dan Aylward, president and general manager of Silverwood, said Idaho already has a law protecting ski resorts from liability. His rides are just like ski lifts, he said.
“What it does, really, is it puts the onus of responsibility on the party involved - just as if you’re at a ski resort,” Aylward said. “If you go out and hurt yourself by doing things you’re not supposed to do, like jumping off a ski lift, they’re not responsible.”
Silverwood may have found the key to avoiding a veto. Mike Brassey, a top adviser to Gov. Batt, said Friday that the scaled-back Silverwood bill appears comparable to the existing ski resort law.
“What this basically does is it places amusement parks and ski areas who have the same kind of contraptions in the same position,” Brassey said. “Good or bad, it’s hard for us to oppose when we have a law on the books.”
This year’s Silverwood bill, like last year’s, lays out duties of amusement park operators and duties of riders. Operators must comply with national safety standards, post warning notices to riders, designate a first-aid station and injury reporting spot, and train employees on how to properly operate rides.
Riders are prohibited from knowingly contributing to injury of themselves or others; violating posted rules; getting on or off a ride while it’s moving or at the wrong spot; throwing anything off a ride; disconnecting seat belts; taking over or monkeying with the controls; failing to pay; or riding while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Anyone 13 or older is considered responsible for following the rules.
Parks couldn’t be sued if riders are injured while violating the rules, as long as the operators complied with their list of duties.
Missing from the bill is last year’s provision saying that if riders don’t report their injuries to the park within 90 days, they can’t sue.
Batt specifically cited the 90-day rule as one of his reasons for vetoing the bill last spring.
“This is an industry where there is some inherent danger, and this legislation puts an undue burden on the patron,” Batt said in his veto message.
The Silverwood bill applies only to fixed amusement parks and water parks, not to traveling carnivals.
Boatright’s bill is broader. Though he told members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee this week that it would apply only to traveling carnivals, the bill itself refers just to “amusement rides” and their operators.
It lists just two responsibilities for operators: That they “exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of passengers” on the rides, and that they provide a first-aid station.
Riders have all the rules that they do in the Silverwood bill, plus a requirement that they not use a ride knowing that they don’t have the knowledge or ability to use it safely.
When Boatright presented the bill for introduction, Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, questioned the language that says “a passenger may not use an amusement ride knowing that the passenger has insufficient knowledge.”
“This doesn’t make any sense to me,” she asked.
Boatright’s bill also includes the 90-day reporting requirement, or damages would be limited, and says 13-year-olds are considered responsible to avoid risks.
The 90-day rule could spell trouble for that bill, Brassey said. “I haven’t discussed it with the governor, but if he didn’t like it there (in last year’s bill), he probably won’t like it here.”
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