EDISON - A database of accidents maintained by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs shows that amusement parks and water parks in the state are very safe, but a Kane In Your Corner investigation raises questions about whether parks are reporting all the accidents they’re required to.

Niki Michalik, 19, of Jackson, banged her head on the seat rest while riding the Joker rollercoaster at Great Adventure in June. Two months later, she still suffers from what her doctors call post-concussion syndrome. “My headaches will start [in the back] and I’ll feel them coming, and then all of a sudden, they’ll radiate all the way to the front,” Michalik says, adding, “I get dizzy and I feel like I have to sit down because it’s, like, throbbing.”

Michalik’s case is not very common. State records indicate amusement park accidents in New Jersey are unusual to begin with, and as Six Flags points out, its safety record is remarkable. Last year, Great Adventure and its neighboring waterpark, Hurricane Harbor, drew 3.5 million visitors and reported just six ride-related accidents, most resulting in only minor injuries. In fact, of the 127 accidents reported statewide last year, nearly half occurred at two water parks. But the vastly different approaches those parks are taking to reduce their accident figures raise serious questions about the reliability of those numbers.

The park that ranked second in ride-related accidents in 2015 was Mountain Creek Water Park in Vernon, formerly called Action Park. It had 29 accidents, some of which were serious. The park reported five dislocated shoulders and a broken wrist. Now under new ownership, the park is placing a renewed emphasis on safety. It has taken several rides out of service, including the popular “Tarzan Swings,” where four shoulder dislocations occurred.  “We want to be the safest park that we possibly can,” says Operations Manager Jason Bays. “We've still got a lot of rides that give you great thrills, but are safe.”

The park with the most reported accidents last year, Splash Zone in Wildwood, with 31, is taking a very different approach to reducing its accident figures. Park manager Roger Chewning says he’s simply stopped reporting accidents that result in minor injuries, and is only reporting accidents resulting in serious bodily harm. “There were six or seven scrapes and cuts or elbows bumped that we didn't send to the state yesterday,” Chewning says.

There’s one problem with Splash Zone’s approach: the law says it’s not allowed. Amusement park regulations require park operators to report any ride-related accident resulting in first aid within 24 hours. Accidents that result in serious injury or ride closures have to be reported immediately.  But Chewning insists supervisors with the NJ Department of Community Affairs are the ones who suggested he only report accidents resulting in serious injury. 

“The state called us and said 'What are you doing sending us all these reports? We really, we don't need all these reports,’” he says.

Kane in Your Corner’s review of the state database confirms different parks appear to use different reporting standards. Some clearly report all accidents required by law, while others appear to only report more serious ones.

Officials with the Department of Community Affairs declined to be interviewed on camera.  Off camera, Enforcement Supervisor Mike Baier admits his inspectors put most of their focus on serious accidents, but says “Operators should be reporting all of them,” adding, “What you’re alerting us to is something we probably should address with the industry.”

Attorney Brian Drazin, of Red Bank, who specializes in amusement park litigation, says Kane In Your Corner’s investigation raises questions about whether the state is enforcing the law. “Until there is some sort of oversight on the reporting, you’re basically leaving it up to the operators to pick and choose,” he says.

NJ Amusement Parks - Most Reported Injuries, 2015
Splash Zone 31
Action Park/Mountain Creek 29
Casino Pier & Breakwater Beach 15
Great Adventure & Hurricane Harbor 6
Storybook Land 4

 

NJ Amusement Parks Most Reported Injuries, Past 3 Years (2013-2015)
Action Park/Mountain Creek 73
Casino Pier & Breakwater Beach 39
Clementon Park & Splash World 38
Splash Zone 34
Great Adventure & Hurricane Harbor 24