On July 26th, tragedy struck the Ohio State Fair after an amusement park ride failure killed one person and injured seven more. Now, lawyers, including Michael Rourke of Rourke & Blumenthal, have expressed concern that a 2005 law may make it difficult for the families of victims to obtain compensation from the manufacturers of this defective product.
The law, known as a statute of repose, was passed as part of state-wide tort reform back in 2005. The legislation states that a manufacturer can only be held responsible for a product being defective provided the defect emerges within ten years of the product’s delivery to the purchaser or lessee. The only exceptions to the law are fraud by the manufacturer and products with a warranty of longer than 10 years.
The alleged goal of the legislation, according to its promoters, was to protect manufacturers from lawsuits and liability claims for defects that were more than likely the result of negligent care on the part of the owner or operator. Even at the time, consumer groups and trial attorney organizations believed that the real goal was to protect manufacturers and insurance companies from being held accountable for injuries and deaths caused by defective products. Now, attorneys are expressing concerns that this law is only going to further victimize those affected by defective products, especially those that are intended to last well beyond the ten-year limit. Attorney Rourke told ABC 6 in Columbus “They want to pass it off to the owner and it really makes no sense. I think it should be as it used to be up to a jury to decide was the design bad was it defective and dangerous when made?” For example, why should a car owner be responsible when a defective Takata airbag deploys and throws sharp pieces of metal into their bodies just because their car is more than ten years old?
U.S. Representative Steve Stivers (R – Upper Arlington) sponsored this anti-consumer legislation back in 2005. Even he now admits that modifications might be necessary. He said in a written statement “It has been more than 10 years since the law was passed, and it is up to the Ohio legislature to examine this case and consider if any reforms to the system are necessary.”
Attorneys at Rourke & Blumenthal who represent victims harmed by defective products believe that mere reforms might not be enough to allow victims full protection. Instead, the statute of repose should be eliminated entirely as there is no good reason to shield manufacturers from liability for defective products that harm and kill consumers.
KMG, the Netherlands-based builder of the Fireball ride, built this particular Fireball ride back in 1998. It is currently owned by Amusements of America. Just days after the Fire Ball tragedy, KMG announced that the accident occurred due to “excessive corrosion” inside a metal beam attaching the gondola to the ride. They also indicated that they had warned owners of these rides about metal corrosion multiple times over the years. Indeed, Rourke & Blumenthal has discovered that KMG quietly changed the defective design in 2010 to reduce corrosion in the critical area, yet it did nothing to warn the public about the dangers of the pre-2010 design. If this law did not exist, the manufacturer’s refusal to recall these rides or repair them to eliminate the metal corrosion issue would be grounds for lawsuits that could help the victims of this defective design.
However, legal counsel for the victims aren’t about to give up. Attorney Rourke stated that lawsuits will go forward and that there will be at least one lawsuit filed before the end of the year, if not more. Numerous investigation teams are continuing to gather evidence, including inspecting the ride itself.
Attorney Rourke is representing Tamica Dunlap, a 36-year-old mother whose legs were crushed in the tragic accident. To date, she has had a total of eight surgeries to try and repair the damage, but recovery is still a long ways off. “It is too early for her to begin rehab because she can't put any weight on her legs,” he told reporters. Fortunately, Tamica is a fighter and has a strong and loving family so there is hope that she can recover at least some use of her legs.
Mr. Rourke and the entire team at Rourke & Blumenthal remain dedicated to protecting their client’s rights after this tragic accident, and will continue to fight to hold those responsible for this tragedy to account in order to obtain the compensation their client needs.
If you have been injured in a serious accident, call a skilled Columbus personal injury attorney at Rourke & Blumenthal today! Dial 614-321-3212 for a free case evaluation.