by Heather M Eichenbaum Esq
We create documents every day in the amusement industry: inspection reports, maintenance records, incident reports, employee files and payroll records.
Some of these documents are created to comply with various laws. Others are prepared as required by insurance companies. Still others are created to document occurrences at parks for future use in claims and litigation. In preparing and retaining documentation for whatever purpose, several key points should be remembered.
All documents should be completed in the most thorough manner possible. Incomplete records can suggest something wasn’t done just because it isn’t documented when other things are noted as having been done. Don’t leave blanks or questions unanswered.
Ensure that all documents are legible and that the author prints their name and signs the document. With changes in personnel, it is not unusual that we’re unable to identify an unclear signature later on if there is no printed name provided.
Complete incident reports and obtain witness statements for every incident, no matter what the nature or scale of the incident (for example, ride accidents, slip/trip and falls, assaults, theft, employee accidents, discrimination or harassment complaints by employees). For incidents involving a minor, always obtain a date of birth as this impacts when the time period for filing a lawsuit expires and how long you should retain incident related records.
For all people, whether employees or park guests, obtain full contact information, including details of the closest relative not living with the person in question, to ensure you can locate them even if they relocate. Photograph and/or video surveillance should be taken for every incident of the alleged injuries (or lack thereof). Also make note of whether the patron stays on site after the incident, of what they do afterwards.
Employee/payroll records must be prepared for all staff; no matter how short a time they are with you. Thoroughly document each and every reprimand and why employment was terminated. Some states within America require such records to be retained for specific periods of time and payroll records should be preserved for tax deduction purposes and audits.
All of this documentation should be retained for defending insurance claims and lawsuits, to evidence proper maintenance to government and/or insurance inspectors and, where applicable, to comply with government regulations.
Paper documentation may be the easiest to complete but it is also a burden to organise and store. Electronic preservation of documents is the most convenient way to save and organise and, of course, requires far less space. As with all important electronic data, remember to back it up. Whether on paper or computer, organise and save all incident related documents by the date of incident to ensure they can always be located, even if the complainant’s name changes.
How long you keep a document varies according to the reason for its retention. Maintenance records should ideally be retained for as long as you own the ride and may increase its value in a later sale. Otherwise, retain maintenance records at least five years unless there has been an incident involving the ride. Inspection reports should also be kept for at least five years unless there has been an incident involving the ride.
Requirements for retention of employee and payroll records vary according to your location. Incident reports and witness statements must be retained at least until the statute of limitations expires plus three months. For incidents involving an adult, this is usually two years from the date of the incident. For an incident involving a minor, this is usually two years after they turn 18. Photographs relating to an incident or complaint should be retained the same length of time as the incident report. If there has been an incident involving an attraction, also keep the related inspection and maintenance records for the entire pertinent season for as long as you retain the incident report.
Creation and retention of proper documentation is an integral part of operating a successful amusement venue. Though tedious and time consuming, having thorough documentation can save you from a costly lawsuit, negative publicity, or a government-imposed penalty if any incidents occur.
Heather M Eichenbaum is a member with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, practicing in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As well as defending amusement venues, she also provides training on employment issues, safety, witness testimony and compliance with disability laws. Legal counsel to, and a board member of, NAARSO, she is also a member of the NJAA, IAAPA, OABA, IISF, Defense Research Institute and various bar and trial lawyer associations in the United States Should you need legal assistance, reach her at: +1 215-241-8856, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org