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Florida regulators to seek more details about injuries suffered on theme park rides

By Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

ORLANDO, Fla. — The public often doesn't know what happens when someone is hurt at a theme park, in a system where parks self-report visitors' health problems to the state.

State regulators plan to talk with Florida's biggest theme parks about making their visitor injury reports more accurate after an Orlando Sentinel investigation revealed that Universal Orlando had disclosed a tourist's broken neck as "numbness" and a child's broken foot and leg bones as "foot pain."

"It's not giving a true picture of what's happening at the theme parks. That has to change," said state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando. "If they can't come up with an agreement, then the Legislature needs to get involved."

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will bring up the issue in January with Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Legoland and Busch Gardens, spokesman Max Flugrath wrote in an email this week.

Under state law, those major theme parks are exempt from state ride inspections, although the agriculture department consults with the parks annually, which is when the conversation will come up, Flugrath said.

"During this year's consultation, which has been pushed back from usually being held in September or October due to COVID-19, our team had planned to open up a conversation about how to get more complete information on injuries park visitors sustain from rides. This is an issue which our team has been considering for over a year," Flugrath wrote.

 

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who took over the office in 2019, has declined several interview requests with the Sentinel for reports on the parks' injuries, including for this story.

The department had previously declined to discuss whether it should change its long-standing agreement that outlines how parks self-report injuries.

Flugrath didn't respond when asked why the planned January meeting with the theme parks wasn't revealed earlier.

Universal was sued at least three times in 2019 by people who had been hurt at the parks and who described their injuries in their lawsuits as more serious than how Universal self-reported it directly to the state.

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