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Ohio Law May Preclude Recovery for Victims of Ohio State Fair Tragedy

On July 26, 2017, tragedy struck at the Ohio State Fairgrounds when a gondola broke off the “Fire Ball” thrill ride and crashed to the ground. Seven were injured and one was killed as people around the country were left wondering how in the world this could happen. Now, over a month later, we are left with another unanswered question: will the victims of this tragedy get the justice they deserve?

On August 6, 2017, the manufacturer of the Fire Ball ride, Netherlands based KMG, posted an announcement on Facebook that there was “excessive corrosion” inside on the gondola’s support beams that had “dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years.” This determination raises serious concerns regarding the design and manufacture of this thrill ride. For example, what steps were taken to prevent moisture from getting inside the support beam? Undoubtedly the manufacturer knew this product was going to be used outdoors and exposed to the elements.

Unfortunately for these victims, it likely does not matter what the manufacturer did or did not do in this case as there is an Ohio law that shields manufacturer’s from any liability if the product is over 10 years old. Specifically, Ohio law states, “no cause of action based on a product liability claim shall accrue against the manufacturer or supplier of the product later than ten years from the date that the product was delivered to its first purchaser.” R.C. 2305.10(C)(1). Here, the Fire Ball was manufactured in 1998 and it can be reasonably expected that KMG will claim it is immune from liability based on this statute.

Some pundits in favor of the law justify their support by arguing that these victims still have an avenue of recourse through the owner of the Fire Ball ride, Amusements of America. They argue that plaintiff’s lawyers are “crying about the statute” simply because such an approach is “more onerous” than going after the manufacturer. In reality, it has nothing to do with whether the process is more onerous. It has everything to do with the fact that a manufacturer of a product can be determined liable for a defectively designed product and the victim of a tragedy has no source of recovery because an arbitrary deadline for which to bring claims. While insurance defense lawyers may argue the victims can still bring claims against the owner and/or operators of the Fire Ball ride, such an argument requires a plaintiff to prove the owner/operator was negligent in some other respect, such as a failure to properly maintain or inspect the ride. It is entirely possible that the owner/operator did properly maintain or inspect the ride, but the ride was just flawed in its design. In this situation, the victims of this tragedy would have no recourse due this arbitrary law shielding manufacturers from liability.

While the Ohio legislature, manufacturers, and the insurance industry may not care about the rights of victims injured by another’s negligence, the lawyers at Leeseberg Tuttle care deeply about getting victims the justice they deserve. If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of others, please contact us to see if we can be of assistance.