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Schlitterbahn Has Been Sued At Least Three Times For Negligence Since 2014

VerruchtHigh650.JPG
Laura Spender
/
KCUR

The death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab Sunday on the Schlitterbahn’s Verrukt water slide is the first known accident involving the attraction since it opened in 2014. But at least three negligence lawsuits have been filed since 2014 against Schlitterbahn, which opened seven years ago in Kansas City, Kansas. As Heartland Health Monitor’s Dan Margolies reports, none involved the Verrukt, at 17 stories the world’s tallest water slide.

In March 2014, Linda Stomboly sued the water park after alleging she was seriously injured in August 2012 while riding the park’s King Kaw attraction. King Kaw is a white water rapids ride that includes chutes and waterfalls.

According to the lawsuit she filed in Wyandotte County District Court, almost immediately after Stomboly started the ride’s descent in her flotation tube, she collided with another tube and was ejected.

While trying to get back in her tube, her leg became stuck as she went over a waterfall, “resulting in multiple spiral fractures of her tibia and fibula,” according to Stomboly’s petition.

Court documents show Schlitterbahn offered to settle the case for $20,000 about four months after the case was filed. It’s unknown if Stomboly accepted that offer, but the case was dismissed a month later, suggesting it was resolved.

Stomboly’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Another case, involving the park’s Boogie Bahn surfing ride, was filed in Wyandotte County District Court by Robert Boepple in May 2014.

Boepple alleged that on May 25, 2012, he caught his toe on a “protruding item” and fell forward, “striking his head and face while trying to catch himself with his left arm.” Boepple claimed he suffered injuries to his head, neck, back, arm and spine.

Boepple’s attorney, Candis Young, said the case was later dismissed.

“All I can say is it was resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties,” she said.

Young said she was not at liberty to discuss the terms of the settlement.

The third case was brought by Frances Logan and involved the park’s King Kong River ride. Logan claimed she was “severely injured” on Aug. 9, 2014, when she was riding an inner tube with her niece and, at one of the dips in the river, the tube tipped over and her left foot hit a concrete wall.

She contended there were no lifeguards on duty at the time and she had to be pulled out of the river by other patrons.

That case was also settled, according to the case manager for Logan’s attorneys, Ron Netemeyer and Jill Elsbury. The case manager was unable to say if it was settled on confidential terms.

Richard T. Merker, a Kansas City attorney who represents Schlitterbahn, said that apart from the Boepple case, he couldn’t remember if the other two cases were settled. But if they were, he said, “they were for very insignificant amounts of money.”

Merker said all of the parks are inspected daily before the park opens up and Sunday’s accident at the Verrückt “is the first issue we’ve had with this ride at all.”

Merker said Kansas City, Kansas, police and other agencies are investigating the incident “and we’ve cooperated fully with them in all regards.”

“We don’t have any idea what happened to this boy,” he said.

Caleb Schwab was the son of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab, a Republican of Olathe. No details about the circumstances of his death have been released.

The Schwabs and many other elected officials were at Schlitterbahn for a day celebrating elected officials.

In a statement, the Kansas Department of Labor said it was investigating the accident and “will exercise appropriate authority under relevant Kansas statute and administrative regulations, as they pertain to public safety.”

A 2013 article in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found that between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 92,885 children under the age of 17 were treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries involving amusement park rides, or an average of 4,423 injuries annually. The study concluded that “an improved national system for monitoring injuries involving amusement park rides is needed.”

A look at waterparks, their safety and statistics in the U.S., via the AP:

HOW MANY WATERPARKS ARE THERE?

About 1,300 waterparks operated in North America a year ago, up about 30 percent from a decade ago, according to the trade group World Waterpark Association. Those parks attracted about 85 million people in 2015, compared to about 73 million in 2004. A growing segment of the industry has been municipal-run waterparks, as cities and counties look to boost revenue from what their flat-water pools deliver.

HOW SAFE ARE WATERPARKS?

No figures are available for overall waterpark injuries, but the Red Cross cited U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates when it launched updated training efforts last year for lifeguards who work at waterparks. Those showed more than 4,200 people a year taken to emergency rooms to be treated for scrapes, concussions, broken limbs, spinal injuries and other such injuries suffered on public waterslides. Those numbers do not include other waterpark injuries or those who need lifeguard assistance without a hospital trip.

Drownings also occur. In July 2015, one drowning and at least three near-drownings were reported at U.S. waterparks.

WHAT DANGERS LURK AT WATERPARKS?

As the parks proliferate, concern has grown about the risks present even when most of the water is shallower than 3 feet people who aren't good swimmers, especially young children, mixed with the unexpected hit of waves and falls that can lead to concussions or even drownings.

WHAT'S BEEN DONE TO IMPROVE SAFETY?

The Red Cross last year added training and certification specifically for extreme shallow water rescue. The Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course includes techniques for handling and removing people from water that is generally 3 feet deep or less, which can be different than in deep-water pools, and first-aid training emphasizing care for head, neck and spinal injuries. About 2,100 people took the courses last year, according to the Red Cross.

WHAT DO STATES DO TO REGULATE WATERPARKS?

It varies, but Kansas statutes leave it to its Department of Labor to adopt rules and regulations relating to certification and inspection of rides, adding that an amusement ride at a permanent location "shall be self-inspected by a qualified inspector at least every 12 months."

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO KEEP THEIR CHILDREN SAFE?

The Red Cross offers tips specifically for waterparks. The Red Cross swim app is also available, which is designed for children and their parents.