Of all the jobs where the well-being of someone is at stake, circus acrobats would be at the top of the list. They perform in arenas throughout the country, entertaining spectators with their skills and general daredevil antics.
Building management companies that book these risk-taking entertainers to generate revenues must be proactive and detail-oriented to ensure the highest standards of safety. Yet, coming up short in that area resulted in the May 2014 accident and cost multi-millions of dollars.
A tragic event
At a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus show in Rhode Island on May 4, 2014, eight performers were high above the cheering crowd anticipating the famed “hanging hair act” during the first of three shows that day.
Those initial cheers turned to immediate screams and gasps. Before the announcer could finish the introduction, all of the acrobats plummeted 20 feet to the ground below, mere seconds into the act’s announcement. Some in the audience wondered if it was part of the show.
It was anything but.
They all suffered what was described as “life-altering injuries.” Two years later, they filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Rhode Island Convention Center and SMG, the building management company responsible for oversight.
Errors and oversights
The plaintiff’s attorney alleged that the most basic safety standards and features necessary for any event, let alone a circus, was not in place. An investigation conducted by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that the carabiner supporting the performers failed to be loaded properly, resulting in the accident and a subsequent $7,000 OSHA fine.
In addition, there is no documentation that a professional engineer conducted any type of review for structural adequacy and performances, an oversight that changed lives and ended careers.
Four days before Christmas, both sides settled, awarding the injured performers $52.5 million.