by Heather M Eichenbaum Esq
Accidents are unavoidable. Whether the fault of your park or its patrons, your initial behaviour can make all the difference to the reaction of the guest involved, their family and government regulators, as well to the public perception of your park.
All parks should have a crisis management plan and procedure in place, in writing, and practised at least once a year by key personnel who will be involved in any crisis. Here’s how to go about it.
First and foremost, after any serious accident, your lawyer should immediately be retained to assist in the crisis management and investigation. As well as contacting and communicating with independent inspectors, investigators and government authorities, they may also handle press releases and other media contact. Further, if counsel retains and communicates with the independent inspector, those communications may be privileged and, therefore, protected from disclosure should a lawsuit be filed as a result of the accident. That privilege will be most beneficial if the investigation reveals park negligence as opposed to guest error.
An independent inspector knowledgeable about the industry and ride involved should also be retained and brought to the site immediately. They should oversee the investigation by government authorities and conduct their own independent investigation. Additionally, they can serve as an independent voice on the park’s behalf if it is believed that the accident resulted from guest error or misconduct.
You should not ignore the press or say “no comment” following any serious accident. It only looks like you’re avoiding the issue and are afraid to face what happened because you may have done something wrong. Some statement is always better than no statement – even if it is just that you are in the process of investigating the accident and will issue a press release once you have more information.
Park owners and management are likely to be too emotional following a serious accident to handle the media in live press conferences or interviews. A written press release, reviewed by your park’s lawyers, can effectively relay your message without threat of questions you don’t want to be put on the spot to answer.
If a live press conference or interview is necessary, let an independent representative handle it. They will have full knowledge regarding many issues the press may ask specific to the accident at issue but can avoid broader questions posed by reporters by indicating they don’t know and will get the answer in due course. You in turn can think about why the broader question is being asked and prepare your answer accordingly.
Further, if an independent representative doesn’t make a good impression with the media or the public, they can be the scapegoat in later media contact and the public is less likely to hold it against the park than if an owner or management level employee makes a poor impression. Whoever speaks on behalf of the park, all day-to-day employees should be told that they are not to speak to anyone – including but not limited to the media – about the accident.
Finally, let the people you employ do their jobs. Hire professionals that you believe will have your park’s best interests at heart and then trust them. Follow their advice. They will be thinking without the same emotion and from an objective perspective while you will likely be upset and your thinking will almost certainly not be as clear or impartial.
Heather Eichenbaum is a member with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, practising in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In addition to defending amusement venues, she also handles and provides training in crisis management. Legal counsel to and a board member of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials in the United States, she is also a member of IAAPA, NJAA, OABA and the IISF. Should you need legal assistance, reach Heather at: +1 215 241 8856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.