Despite Promised Change, “Vague, Inaccurate” Theme Park Death & Injury Reports Mount

in Theme Parks

magic kingdom monorail with cinderella castle and space mountain

Credit: Disney

There are few things that draw visitors to Central Florida like theme parks. While Walt Disney World Resort is undoubtedly the flagship, the Orlando area is also home to Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and more.

disney and pixar characters in front of 50th anniversary cinderella castle at walt disney world
Credit: Disney

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While major theme parks take measures to protect Guests, placing a priority on safety, the recent tragedy at ICON Park Orlando — in which teenager Tyre Sampson plummeted to his death on a freefall ride — has brought Guest safety back to the forefront.

Theme parks of all sizes are allowed to self-report injuries sustained on their property, leading to vague reports and misleading claims, in some cases.

Attractions at ICON Park Orlando
Credit: ICON Park Orlando

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As a recent Orlando Sentinel article noted, this means that the severity of certain incidents isn’t disclosed:

“You’ve got the fox guarding the henhouse,” said attorney Ed Normand, who is representing the family of a boy whose foot and leg were crushed on the E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Orlando in January 2019. Universal called his injury “foot pain” in its report.

Now, it has emerged that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), which oversees theme park injury reports in the state, promised change two years ago — but no noticeable measures have been taken.

Jurassic Park Universal Orlando
Credit: Universal Orlando

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The Sentinel has been investigating how the Department processes injury claims since 2020, and recently published an update. The report notes:

Spokeswoman Caroline Stonecipher said the department discussed potential updates internally and with the theme parks over that period, but no changes emerged.

“The conclusion was that due to privacy concerns and legal issues – such as active litigation – our department is not able to receive updates to initial assessments of a patron’s condition,” she wrote in an email.

If such reports were filed with the state, accident details could be accessible via public records requests.

EPCOT cosmic rewind with spaceship earth
Credit: Disney

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Agriculture Department Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) told the Sentinel that her agency does not have the authority to change a separate state law that allows theme parks to conduct private investigations into incidents. This would require legislators to propose change in the Sunshine State.

The Sentinel’s report went on to note that legislators are frustrated by the FDACS’s lack of action when it comes to altering theme park injury reporting processes:

State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said she met with Fried in late 2020 to discuss the regulations. She was willing to sponsor legislation but wanted Fried’s office to lead the reform.

The agency dragged its feet, she said. Though her offer to spearhead a bill still stands, the office has not approached her to start that process.

Shopping in Diagon Alley
Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

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Under current state law, any Florida theme park with over 1,000 full-time employees and their own safety inspection must file a yearly affidavit proving their rides are in compliance with state regulations.

As the Sentinel noted, however, this safety compliance does not equal accurate injury reports:

Details are scarce: theme parks’ reports include only the date of an injury, the attraction involved, the age and gender of the guest, if the guest had a pre-existing condition and a brief description of the injury.

The injury descriptions can often be vague or inaccurate, the Orlando Sentinel found, such as when a tourist at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park broke his neck on a water slide in July 2019 and was paralyzed. Universal described the injury as “numbness.”

volcano bay
Credit: Universal Orlando

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Following Tyre Sampson’s death — and hundreds of additional reports regarding injuries sustained at theme park properties — more legislators joined the fight to change theme park injury reporting processes in Florida. The Sentinel shared that:

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, of Ocoee, and state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, of Orlando, have voiced the need for change.

Thompson, whose jurisdiction includes Orlando’s theme parks, has pledged to file the “Tyre Sampson Bill,” working with Fried to address any gaps in current legislation found during the state’s accident investigation.

winnie the pooh meet and greet disney world
Credit: Disney

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At this time, no new legislation has been passed to help protect Florida’s millions of annual theme park visitors, but it certainly seems that change is coming.

Have you ever been injured at an Orlando-area theme park?

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