Crisis at the Circus: Platform Collapse Injures Performers


On May 4, 2014, hundreds of people gathered to witness circus performers from around the globe showcase athleticism, bravery and amazement at the “Greatest Show On Earth.” Instead, spectators witnessed a terrifying ordeal at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Rhode Island. And, the traumatic incident was caught on video.

After the announcer built dramatic tension, a curtain dropped revealing a group of female acrobats performing a high-wire ballet act, hanging only from their hair, about 35 feet from the floor. The aerialist suspension was designed to resemble a “human chandelier.” Seconds later, the platform dropped unexpectedly and the performers, who were working with no net, plunged to the floor. Ambulance crews were brought into the facility before the audience could be ushered out. Eight female acrobats and one male dancer, who was dancing on the floor, were injured.

Local fire and police departments as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigated the incident. The mid-air platform suddenly crashed down due to the failure of one steel ring connecting the apparatus to a cable, officials said. A single piece of equipment snapped, and caused devastating results. The failed 5-inch long ring was supposed to hold 10,000 pounds. The “human chandelier” and platform weighed a combined 1,500 pounds.

Circus workers told investigators circus equipment is visually inspected before each show, and OSHA is leading the investigation to determine why the steel ring failed. Certainly, something went terribly wrong. As stated by the Providence Public Safety Commissioner, “Obviously something happened that shouldn’t have happened.”

NBA News reports that two acrobats are left with spinal cord injuries and the extent of their recovery will not be clear for months. Some of the other women may fully recover, but with some career-altering injuries. Since the incident, doctors have performed a total of 17 surgeries on the group of females.

Who’s at fault?

It is common knowledge that circus performers engage in dangerous acts. And, it is highly likely these performers signed a liability waiver forming a contract exempting the employer from liability and exerting the performer’s assumption of the risk. There are inherent risks associated with certain jobs that employees generally must assume. However, it is important to note that signing a liability waiver does not completely prevent the worker from suing the employer for injuries suffered while on the job. All liability is not released simply by signing a waiver. Rather, employers can be liable for intentional and grossly negligent acts.

In this case, the Ringling Brothers can face a lawsuit based on gross negligence if it is proven that there was a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care; and the injuries suffered were foreseeable.

OSHA Violations

Amongst other situations, a worker can seek workers compensation when it is found the employer is in violation of OSHA regulations. OSHA is a federal agency tasked with the enforcement of workplace safety and health legislation. A circus is a workplace for the employees, so OSHA does indeed have jurisdiction over the matter. OSHA’s website lists two fatalities of circus performers in accidents it inspected over the last decade.

Time is off the essence in all legal matters. If you or loved one has been injured, hiring a skilled Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer as early as possible increases the ability to protect your rights and maximize the value of your case. Contact us or call our experienced team at Solnick & Associates LLC for a free consultation.

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