Water Park Injuries: Risks & Liability


The 2021 water park season has extra special meaning after the 2020 pandemic shut down many parks across the country. Owners, operators, and guests are all energized and ready to resume the tradition of water park summer fun.

Water parks will look a bit different this year. Limited capacity and reservations will likely be the norm. Face masks will probably be mandatory as you enter and exit the park and restaurants within the parks. Don’t be surprised to see temperature checks, enhanced cleaning protocols, and plenty of signage encouraging hand-washing and social distancing from people in other groups.

Although most of our attention has understandably shifted to COVID-19 and best practices for safely reopening water parks, the pre-pandemic water park standard risks are just as important as ever.   

As much as water parks are adored, they don’t have a spotless safety record over time. A number of tragic accidents have happened over the years in water parks. These accidents can often be attributed to the lack of regulation for water parks in the U.S. 

There is no federal authority that regulates water park safety standards. The responsibility lies with the state, and while some states have agencies that inspect, others rely on the parks’ own insurance companies to conduct inspections. Sometimes those inspections do not involve evaluating the safety engineering of a ride or considering important factors like speed and geometric angles of slide paths. 

As an owner/operator of a water park or water attraction, you take vital steps to reduce risk and liability for your staff and guests.

Major water park injuries & causes

Slip and fall injuries are probably the most common cause of injuries at water parks. It’s not surprising considering guests spend their day walking on wet slippery surfaces.

Other more dangerous water park injuries are results of other hazards like:

  • water slide malfunctions
  • ride entrapments
  • falls from water slides
  • collisions on water rides
  • overcrowded pools
  • lifeguard errors
  • failure to enforce weight and height restrictions

Types of water park injuries

The types of injuries sustained at water parks vary from minor bumps and bruises to death in the most extreme cases.

Lacerations are always a concern because of the possibility of infection from germs and bacteria. Blood in the water is also not ideal for other guests. Cuts, scrapes, and stubbed toes usually result from hitting the bottoms and the sides of pools and slides.

Back and neck injuries can happen when sliding down a water slide, especially on inner tubes. If the tube flips or turns quickly, it can lead to whiplash, neck strains, and back injury. Hitting the bottom of the pool with the tailbone can cause spinal damage.

Drowning is always a concern at water parks. Massive drains in wave pools can catch hair and pull a small child down. Children can get stuck under overturned tubes in overcrowded wave pools. A near-drowning experience is hazardous and can cause brain damage.

Water park risk management

The first step for water park owners to mitigate risk is developing standard rules of water play and safety and strictly enforcing them. The second, and just as important consideration, is the equipment and ride design. When using recirculated, water great care must be taken to treat the water and keep it safe.

There are a number of highly qualified aquatic safety consulting firms in the country that will work with you and your park to make it as safe as possible.  You are encouraged to engage them and adopt their tried and true safety protocols.

Other ways water parks can reduce risk:

Consistent training — Ensure all ride operators are properly trained to prepare guests for the rides, recognize potential problems, and best practices for addressing potential issues.

Staff monitoring — Supervisors and managers should be regularly monitoring operations to ensure all personnel is following and performing trained duties.

Detailed record keeping — In the event of an accident, it’s important to identify, interview and record the names and experience of everyone involved and get testimony from eyewitnesses.

Park maintenance and inspection — Proactive maintenance, preventative maintenance, and daily inspections are critical to overall park performance and guest safety.    

Insurance — After doing everything possible to mitigate risk and create a safe environment for guests, accidents can still occur. An accident, by definition, is something that was not planned for or expected. Although nobody wants accidents to happen, usually somebody, and often the water park, is held liable. McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance provides insurance for the amusement and entertainment industry. Contact us today to learn more about our coverage.

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