When you visit a theme park, how much of the job to keep you safe belongs to the park versus belonging to you?
Since you are reading this site, it's probably safe to assume that you have some interest in theme parks and are at least trying to take some responsibility for your vacation. So you are unlikely to pick a park and go on its rides with no concern for safety, ignoring every warning along the way. Not everyone behaves that way, however, so parks have a legal responsibility to provide as safe an experience as they can.
But no one wants to spend their vacation sitting in a ergonomic chair, waiting quietly inside a bubble-wrapped room. Okay, maybe 10 minutes of that might be a nice break — or 20 if you get to pop the bubble wrap. My point is that most people want to go on vacation to do something fun and out of the ordinary and that many of those unique experiences come with some inherent risk.
You could twist an ankle walking on a trail. You could get sick (or worse) eating something you're allergic to. You could damage your hearing at a pop concert or auto race. You could blow out your knee on a bunny slope at a ski resort. (No, as a matter of fact, I never will get over that.) Or... you could aggravate an injury or medical condition on a theme park thrill ride.
You're on your own to judge the risk on natural attractions such as trails. As man-made attractions, theme parks typically post warnings on rides that are not accessible to everyone regardless of age, size, or health considerations. You can find warnings at ride entrance, just before the loading area, and on the park's guidemap. In the United States, theme parks also publish separate guides for people with disabilities, providing guidance on accessibility or alternate experiences.
But is that enough? The family of a Guatemalan man who died after riding Skull Island: Reign of Kong in 2016 is suing Universal Orlando, since the ride's warning signs were published only in English, which the man could not read.
The 38-year-old father of a 8-year-old boy apparently suffered a heart attack, and the family is seeking in excess of $15,000 in damages. An autopsy noted coronary disease, but even if a heart attack was inevitable at some point, if the ride experience exacerbated the man's condition, Universal could bear some liability.
That's why parks warn people with heart conditions not to go on thrill rides. But the family contends that Universal's warning didn't help them because it wasn't in Spanish.
Let's not blame the family here. They've suffered the devastating loss of a loved one, and I don't fault them for exploring every potential avenue to recover some of the financial cost of the death and burial. My heart goes out to them as a fellow theme park fan. I also want to acknowledge that it's tough for me to analyze their claim impartially since I am coming to this story from a position of privilege as a native English speaker and an especially well-informed theme park fan.
As the official language of international aviation, English enjoys a privileged position around the world, so I often encounter English-language signs when I travel to countries where English is not the local native language. And as someone who studies theme parks, I could probably tell you the warnings on any ride system just by looking at it, without ever having to read the sign myself.
Theme parks absolutely bear a responsibility to communicate warnings to their guests, regardless of those guests' ability to comprehend them. That goes for people who can't read English... or any language at all. But that's why Universal uses internationally-recognized graphics on their warning signs, as well as English text. That's also why it publishes guidemaps and accessibility guides in multiple languages, and employs people who speak multiple languages to assist guests.
Given the make-up of international visitors to Orlando, one could make as strong an argument for adding Portuguese to warning signs as Spanish. (Portuguese, not Spanish, is the native language in Brazil.) But adding warnings in 10 different languages won't help someone who doesn't know that he has the health condition that the ride's sign is warning against.
Everyone who visits a theme park deserves to leave that park in as good a health condition as they entered it. But I wouldn't trust even the best and most careful theme park in the world to take full responsibility for something as important as my health and safety. At some point, it's up to us as theme park visitors to protect ourselves.Tweet
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