KIYC finds amusement parks underreport concussions from high-speed rides

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EDISON -

Do high-speed thrill rides pose a concussion risk? A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds several patrons have suffered debilitating concussions while riding high-speed roller coasters in New Jersey, but those injuries don’t show up in government records, because parks apparently aren’t reporting the injuries as required by law. 

Sophie Yevchak, who recently completed her sophomore year of high school, took nearly a year to recover from a severe concussion she suffered in April 2017. “You can’t watch TV, you can’t read, you can’t go on your phone,” she recalls. “You’re not allowed to have much light. I felt like all I did was nap and eat.”

“She was a high-performing athlete that went from seven days a week of sports activity and training to nothing,” says her mother, Kathy.

Sophie isn’t alone. In the past three years, about half a dozen people have contacted Kane In Your Corner to say they suffered concussions on roller coasters at just one park, Six Flags Great Adventure. And some doctors believe those are just the tip of the iceberg.

“There’s a significant risk and people should be cognizant of that,” says neurologist Scott Pello, who says he’s treated several patients for roller coaster-induced concussions. Pello compares the G-forces on high-speed thrill rides to the kind of hits football players take, saying “the force of impact becomes so great that it exceeds what that amount of fluid in between the skull and the brain can withstand.”

Kane In Your Corner wanted to find out how many concussions have occurred on high-speed rides in New Jersey. It should have been an easy task. Since 2006, New Jersey has been one of the only states in the country to require parks to report ride-related injuries, so they can be logged into a public database. But that database doesn’t show a single case of a roller coaster-induced concussion.

“That’s shocking,” says attorney Rich Grungo, who specializes in amusement park law. “The problem, as you’ve found, is that there are serious gaps or holes in the reporting system of New Jersey.”

Kristin Siebeneicher Fitzgerald, communications manager for Six Flags Great Adventure, says “We provide all required information to the state” but insists that “some of the situations you cited were never reported to us.” 

But the evidence indicates the park was aware of those injuries. Kane In Your Corner obtained everything from emails to internal park accident reports to personal injury lawsuits. 

Even when parks do report accidents promptly, experts say many concussions will never get reported, simply because a guest may not realize they have one at the time. “One of the problems with concussion is we don’t always see symptoms right away” Pello says. “It can take days or even weeks to first notice the onset of the symptoms.”

Pello says he doesn’t advise people to avoid roller coasters altogether, but he thinks people should be aware of the potential risks, especially if they or their children have had previous concussions. He also warns parents to pay attention to posted height requirements, noting that headrests and restraints are designed for riders of certain sizes.

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