Disturbing Trend towards Inflatable Mishaps Should Lead to More Regulations

Jump houses come in all forms and cater to children’s imaginations: slides, castles, ships, even obstacle courses. They offer parents much needed respite during outdoor playtime and are a popular item at parties. However, as a personal injury attorney in Atlanta, I know that, on breezy afternoons, they can also come with many perils. An accident this summer hammered home these little-known hazards when a gust of wind suddenly sent three inflatables at a youth soccer tournament soaring into the air – with children inside. According to the Associated Press, a mother was seriously injured when one landed on her, but the children only suffered minor bumps and bruises.

An AP interview with Jim Barber, a spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, revealed that accidents like these happen all the time. In fact, the situation is so severe that in 2001, the Consumer Product Safety Commission came out with a bulletin on how to safely operate inflatable products. A 2005 report linked the growing popularity of inflatables with an increasing number of injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms from 1997 to 2004. One of the best manners of determining a safety issue with a product is to evaluate the number of emergency room visits that result from the use of the product. An increase in emergency room visits over a 7 year period of time points to a real issue with inflatables.

Interestingly enough, the real problem may not be with the huge toys themselves, but with the people who supervise them. Guidelines for carnival, fair and amusement parks rides are fairly strict, but bouncy houses are usually not included in this category. Many states lack regulations that monitor the training requirements for handlers and operators. This is, I think, because such laws are created at the state level and many legislators are not yet aware of the real problems posed. Perhaps this incident, and the media attention it’s garnering, will be the catalyst that inspires lawmakers to take a closer look at what can be done to ensure the safety of our children.

I think there are several things that can be done statutorily and with regulations to improve safety in this area. First, states need to pass a law that requires operators and installers of inflatables to become licensed. In order to become licensed, a person installing these devices would need to undergo a safety instruction course that explains their proper installation from an independent third party. Second, states need to pass regulations that address the manner in which inflatables are anchored. The problems often arise due to the failure of the installer to properly secure the inflatable to the ground. Third, a review does need to occur with respect to the design of these devices. The amount of anchorage needs to be tied to the weight of the inflatable. In the end, whether it’s the children inside or the innocent bystander, persons will be injured if the states fail to take action to make sure inflatables are safe.

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