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Universal Studios Florida

The theme park industry is trying to find its footing as it tries to get back to doing something resembling business as usual. However, Universal Orlando Resort in addition to having to figure out the future is also dealing with the past. A New York tourist is suing the resort after becoming paralyzed on the Punga Racers water slide at the Volcano Bay water park. And while this one guest is the only one to be so severely injured, the same slide has reportedly caused as many as 115 other injuries to guests, and even people testing the ride.

In July 2019, James Bowen, visiting Universal Orlando from New York, claims his head was violently snapped back as he went through a wave of water at the end of the ride, leading to him being paralyzed. While Florida law only requires the reporting of injuries that result in hospital stays of 24 hours or more, the Orlando Sentinel reports that internal documents at Universal Orlando Resort have revealed up to 115 other injuries that run the gamut from nosebleeds to back and neck pain and at least one concussion that all came from the same attraction.

The court documents revealing the series of injuries were ordered sealed by the judge handling the lawsuit but were apparently still publicly available earlier this week.

In addition to the lists of injuries, the documents also showed some of the internal discussions within Universal about the ride. A November 2017 report from ProSlide, the Canadian manufacturer of the water slide, revealed that during one test run the mat bounced into the face of the tester, knocking their head back and requiring a first aid check-up. An October 2018 test also saw the tester hit their head. Punga Racers underwent a recent refurbishment and reopened this year without mats and with riders going down feet first rather than head first.

Without having other water slide logs to compare it to, it's difficult to know how the injuries on Punga Racers compare. The list covers nearly every injury reported to Universal Orlando, no matter how minor, and by their very nature water slides are difficult to control. It's also impossible to know how what the ultimate cause of these injuries was. It could have been something inherent to the attraction but it could also have been due to riders not following ride instructions.

The documents don't include any listings for injuries for this year, so it's possible the recent changes to the ride have been what was needed and things will work much more smoothly at Volcano Bay going forward. The water park is, along with the rest of Universal Orlando Resort, now open for business, but with limited capacity, social distancing, and mask requirements in place.

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