Dreamworld fail in its duty of care to keep the Thunder
River Rapids ride safe on 25 October 2016?
The answer lies in finding the duty of care, then
examining how Dreamworld failed in its duty of care to keep
visitors to the theme park safe.
Where is the legal duty
of care for the safety of visitors to be found?
found in two places:
- The guarantee of due care and skill which is in the
Australian Consumer Law. The guarantee is inserted by
law into every contract for the supply of services. It
covers services provided by everyone in the tourism
industry, from theme parks to hotels and resorts to tour
operators to airlines and transport providers.
- The duty of care to avoid negligence which is in the
Civil Liability Law. The duty is to take precautions
against a risk of harm which is foreseeable and is
significant. The precautions are those that a reasonable
person would take to keep the public safe.
How did Dreamworld
fail in its legal duty of care for safety?
No definitive reasons have yet emerged – these will be
explored by the Queensland Coroner at a coroner’s
inquest which is expected to take place early next year.
So the possible reasons I set out below are pure
speculation, and are by no means comprehensive.
Reason 1 – The riders were not adequately restrained
against being thrown from the raft. All four riders were
killed when they were thrown from the raft. The
restraints in the raft were a lap sash seatbelt and a
bar to hold. There should have been a double shoulder
harness, as in roller coaster rides.
Reason 2 –
The raft was on a conveyor belt which had been unsafely
modified. The conveyor belt lifted the rafts at the end
of the ride to the start of the ride loop. The accident
occurred because the raft in front had got stuck at the
top, and when the fatal raft hit it, it flipped. Two
riders fell through the slats and drowned (the other two
were crushed on the slats). They fell through because
every second slat had been removed – the reason was that
when a wooden slat broke, it was not replaced. Instead,
the remaining slats were evenly redistributed, leaving
Reason 3 – Where was the person with the
‘stop ride’ button? The normal practice is that
attendants are stationed in line of sight positions
along rides in theme parks. They have the ability to
stop a ride if they see something wrong. It is not known
if an attendant was watching the conveyor belt on this
ride. If they were, why did they not stop the ride?
Reason 4 – There was no separator to prevent
rafts from colliding with each other on the conveyor
belt. It is normal for rafts / cars to be kept separate
with a separator.
In summary, there were either
defects in the equipment or in the supervision.
Dreamworld’s liability for compensation claims?
Dreamworld, the same as every theme park / recreational
activity operator, enters into a contract with every
visitor who enters the park. The conditions of contract
are found in the entry pass, and the visitor is legally
bound by them. The conditions include disclaimers of
In the case of Dreamworld, the disclaimer
of liability for injury and death are found under the
‘Responsibility’ heading which states: The Company will
not be liable to any person in respect of loss of life
or personal injury.
It is perfectly legal for theme
park operators to exclude civil liability by using a
disclaimer. But there are limits. If the loss of life or
injury is caused by recklessness, then the Civil
Liability Law and the Australian Consumer Law will
override the disclaimer and the theme park /
recreational activity operator will be held liable for
What is recklessness? It is the
situation where the operator is aware or should have
been aware there was a significant risk of personal
injury in the way the activity was being operated, but
failed to take adequate precautions.
There is every possibility that Dreamworld will be
found to have operated the Thunder River Rapids ride
recklessly, and so be liable despite the disclaimer in
the entry pass.
many consequences of the Dreamworld tragedy
Personal – Four adults died, two children were
thrown clear. The families of the deceased adults were
traumatised, as were the children who were thrown clear.
Criminal Charges – The coroner may recommend
criminal negligence charges be laid against the
attendants supervising the ride, the operations manager,
and possibly the ride maintenance staff.
Claims – Compensation payments to next of kin for
trauma following a death are limited, but compensation
for loss of future earnings can be relatively large. The
civil law suits will use much of the evidence uncovered
in the coroner’s inquest.
Workplace Health & Safety –
The staff may claim compensation for trauma. The
workplace Regulator may prosecute Dreamworld and its
managers for failing to maintain a safe working
environment, which may lead to fines and possibly
Financial Loss – The Dreamworld theme park was closed
for 45 days, resulting in a financial loss for its owner
Ardent Leisure, including a 44.5% drop in earnings to 30
Reputational – Gold Coast Theme Park
attendances as a whole declined 8.4% in the summer of
2016/2017. Dreamworld attendances suffered a greater
decline. Dreamworld estimates that recovery is likely to
take two years. The coroner’s inquest and court
proceedings brought by the workplace regulator and the
families of those killed will bring more reputational
Theme park rides occur in a
repetitive, controlled environment. There should be zero