On August 6, 2017, Netherlands based KMG, the manufacturer of the Fire Ball ride that catastrophically failed, causing a death and several severe injuries, posted on its Facebook page that it has determined that corrosion inside of one of the Fire Ball’s gondola support beams had “dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years.” This allowed one of the gondolas carrying six people to be launched like a catapult, resulting in some riders being throw as far as 50 feet. KMG’s Facebook post concerning its conclusion regarding the cause of this catastrophe is by no means the final statement. Many other experts will be weighing in over the next weeks and months regarding what caused this tragedy and, perhaps even more importantly, what can be done in the future to prevent it.
Certainly, if corrosion was one of the culprits, many things come to mind regarding how this corrosion could have been prevented and why it was not discovered earlier. KMG knew that its ride would be used outdoors in all types of weather, including high humidity and rainstorms. What did the designer and the manufacturer do to prevent moisture from entering a critical component like the support beam? What was done to insure that the metal used for the support beam was resistant to corrosion so that catastrophic failures like the type that occurred at the Ohio State Fair would not occur? Further, what forms of inspections did the designer and manufacturer recommend be utilized to detect corrosion before it became “excessive”? For example, was periodic disassembly and internal inspection required? Was radiographic inspection recommended to detect internal corrosion? There are many other examples of how corrosion should have been anticipated and designed out of the product or how vigilance for such corrosion could have been designed into the instructions and warnings for the product at the time that KMG manufactured the Fire Ball amusement ride in 1998.
Unfortunately, in 2005, the Ohio Legislature passed amendments to Ohio’s Product Liability Statute in an effort of so-called “tort reform” that may give KMG a free pass. As a result, the Ohio Revised Code now states that “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 that product was delivered to its first purchaser …” It can be expected that KMG will claim that it is immune from liability since the Fire Ball was manufactured in 1998. The potential ability for KMG to escape liability under Ohio’s Product Liability Ten Year Statute of Repose shows just how outrageous this statutory provision is. The fact that metal can corrode was well known in 1998, as well as in 1898, and for centuries before that. The fact that KMG may have ignored the risks of a corrosion to save money in regard to the types of materials it used or the method of manufacturing the Fire Ball were just as clear in 1998 as they are today. There were many types of materials and manufacturing processes in existence in 1998 that could have been used to reduce or eliminate the potential for corrosion. Just ask manufacturers of airplanes what they did to avoid internal corrosion in wings and other components of passenger jets that are still flying today that were manufactured well before 1998.
We at Rourke & Blumenthal hope that each victim of the horrendous Fire Ball tragedy is properly compensated for their losses. Sadly, Ohio Revised Code § 2305.10(C)(1) will make the victims’ fight for justice much more difficult to achieve. Anyone who is equally as outraged as we are should contact their State Legislature immediately and ask them to draft legislation to remove this grotesquely unfair limitation of the rights of Ohioans