Who is liable for injuries at the North Carolina State Fair?

north carolina state fair injuriesThe recent North Carolina State Fair injuries suffered by fair-goers who were getting off the “Vortex” ride raises issues about who is liable for the injuries.

According to news articles, the State hired a New York company, Powers Great American Midways, to provide and operate rides for the NC State Fair. PGAM  owned 54 of the rides at the fair, however, it did not own the Vortex--this particular ride was owned by a sub‑contractor.
Investigators are looking into the issue of whether a safety switch which malfunctioned on the ride the previous Monday was one of the possible causes of the injuries to patrons who were stepping off the ride when they were injured. Two of these riders were critically injured and remain in the hospital along with a third victim. 

In North Carolina, a concessionaire who is hired by a local fair (in this case, the North Carolina State Fair) to furnish amusements has a non‑delegable duty to ensure that the rides are in a reasonable and safe condition, even those rides not owned or operated by the concessionaire. That is, the concessionaire, may not delegate the responsibility for operating rides in a reasonably safe condition to a sub‑contractor who provides and operates the rides.

Should it be determined that the owner and operator of the “Vortex” failed to exercise the care, the concessionaire who hired the owner of the ride, PGAM, would be liable for the negligence of the owner and operator of the ride.

In a similar case of injuries to patrons of an amusement park which arose from an injury at the Dixie Classics Fair in Winston-Salem, the North Carolina Supreme Court held the World of Mirth Shows, Inc. liable for injuries suffered by riders on a “Scrambler” ride that was owned and operated by Michael Dembrosky. The World of Mirth Shows, Inc. hired Dembrosky to provide the Scrambler to the Dixie Classics Fair.

In holding the World of Mirth Shows, Inc. liable for the injuries, the Court wrote: 

“An employer is not ordinarily liable for injuries resulting from dangerous conditions collaterally creating by the negligence of an independent contractor.  But where it is reasonable foreseeable that harmful consequences will arise from the activity of the contractor unless precautionary methods are adopted, the duty rest upon the employer to see that these precautionary measures are adopted, and he cannot escape liability by entrusting this duty to the independent contractor.”

The Supreme Court noted that public policy fixes upon the contractor the non‑delegable duty to see that adequate precautions are taken for the safety of the public. Mr. Dembrosky could not be located and the victims were therefore unable to obtain a recovery against Dembrosky whose whereabouts were unknown.

Should it be determined that the riders who were injured were somehow themselves negligent as they got off the “Vortex”, under North Carolina’s draconian contributory negligence law, the injured victims will not be able to recover a dime, no matter how negligent the owner or operator of the amusement ride may have been. North Carolina is one of only four states in the country to enforce this seriously out‑of‑date and unfair law.