Western Montana Fair organizers are considering whether to retain the same carnival ride provider in the future after an accident seriously injured a young girl during this year’s event.
The status of the injured girl was unknown this week, but on Monday experts representing the family, Northstar Amusements and ARM, which is the ride manufacturer, gathered in Billings to inspect the ride to determine what might have caused the accident.
Based on those findings, the fair organizers may decide to issue a new request for proposals (RFP) for the carnival, said Emily Brock, the fairgrounds director.
“We can terminate their contract at any time, but at this time we are not looking at doing that,” Brock said. “We might or we might not; I think the outcome is based on discussions with the attorneys. We are doing a thorough investigation and the outcome of that will provide insight in how we move forward with the carnival.”
Specifically, investigators are looking into whether the ride has a design flaw, whether there was a user or operator error, or if the ride was broken, Brock said. She noted that when they put out the RFP last year and chose Northstar, its safety rating was as good, or better, than other carnival operators.
“We checked references closely and Northstar had the best,” Brock said.
Erica Grinde, director of risk management and benefits for Missoula County, said while the girl and her family have retained legal representation — as has the county, Northstar and ARM — a lawsuit hasn’t been filed in connection with the accident.
“The county’s contract with Northstar has the standard indemnification language in there and the insurance requirements, but it’s always tough to say whether we are exposed to liability,” Grinde said. “But in this instance there are a lot of other parties involved. We are cooperating as we always do, and hope a resolution will come before any legal action is taken.”
The girl was injured on the Typhoon ride, which was introduced to the Western Montana Fair in 2013. It has two rows of seats into which people are strapped, and the ride rocks from side to side, eventually completing a 360-degree circle, but doesn’t turn upside down.
On Aug. 9, the 11-year-old girl was flung from the ride and apparently landed on a metal fence, which was dented. She was hospitalized with “serious, but not life-threatening” injuries. The ride was shut down for the remainder of the fair.
Attorneys for the girl didn’t return a phone call seeking comment, and attorneys for Northstar and ARM declined to comment.