Are Bounce Houses and Inflatables at North Carolina Festivals Safe for Our Children?

The dog days of summer have arrived in the Carolinas, and as much as we enjoy this laid-back season, by now our children have started getting a little restless. What's a parent to do? Many of us seek out festivals and events that we can enjoy with our family, and this time of year you usually can find a family-oriented festival or event in the Charlotte and surrounding area almost any weekend. But before you send your excited young one into the colorful bounce houses and inflatables that so frequently grace outdoor events, consider whether these attractions are actually safe.

As the popularity of inflatables has increased, the occurrence of injuries has also increased. Inflatables are often present at back-yard birthday parties as well as at carnivals and other events. These injuries can range from fairly minor, such as bumps and bruises, to devastating injuries, such as paralysis or even death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that from 2003-2007, there were an estimated 31,069 inflatable-related injuries that were treated in emergency rooms. Of those injured, 85% were under the age of 16.

The nonprofit group tracks injuries and fatalities related to amusement rides. In the past two months, at least ten inflatables have either toppled or blown away, injuring more than 40 people, most of whom were children. In June, in Oceanside, N.Y., three inflatable castles were blown through the air after a gust of wind sent them aloft. Seventeen people were injured, including one who was hospitalized with critical injuries. In May, in Lyons, Illinois, eight children were sent to the hospital after falling from a height of 15 feet, landing on asphalt, when an inflatable slide collapsed at an elementary school. Usually, it's not a manufacturer's defect, but the way that the inflatable is set up or supervised that causes accidents. Jim Barber, a spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, stated, "I wish this was a rarity, but it's not. These are probably the most dangerous amusement devices they have."

Tragically, some accidents have resulted in death. Some are cases of the customer's misuse and others are cases of the operator's neglect. In March, 2010, a 5-year old boy was killed when he fell from an inflatable and landed on a concrete floor, possibly as a result of users of vastly different ages and weights bouncing simultaneously, creating a potentially dangerous scenario. And in June, 2009, a Massachusetts operator was charged with manslaughter in the death of a woman who fell from an inflatable climbing wall. The Massachusetts Department of Public Safety stated that the company did not operate the attraction properly or properly train the attendant.

Most states have few or no guidelines regarding inflatable operators. In North Carolina, The Amusement Device Safety Act regulates operators of inflatables at amusement parks or carnival areas. These operators must have liability insurance for injuries to persons or property. The North Carolina Department of Labor's Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau has issued operating procedures for inflatable devices. As a safety-conscious parent, you may wish to read these guidelines which will give you valuable information on what safety procedures to look for at events that have inflatables, such as:

  • Inflatables should not be operated when wind speeds are greater than 25 m.p.h.
  • Only riders of the same size should be allowed on the inflatable at the same time.
  • The rated capacity for the inflatable should not be exceeded.
  • The operator of the inflatable should stay within close proximity to the entrance of the ride.
  • The inflatable must be properly and securely anchored.

As your North Carolina and South Carolina Childhood Injuries and Personal Injury Law Firm, we encourage you to consider safety first to prevent accidents and provide your family with a fun inflatable ride experience this summer.