Circus Contests Citation

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has contested a citation it received from federal regulators for an accident that sent eight hair-hanging acrobats plummeting to the ground during a live performance, severely injuring most of them.

Photo: Steven Senne/AP
During a news conference at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for circus parent company Feld Entertainment, said this week that although they are appealing the finding, they are not planning to reprise the act and are implementing other safety measures recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We want to make sure that something like this never happens again,” he said, adding that while one of the injured acrobats has returned to the circus, the others had not.

“At this time, we don’t believe that there are any plans for any of the performers to return, nor are there plans to have a similar hair hang act in any of our shows,” Payne said. “It was a very popular act. It’s not every day you see people hanging from their hair. I wouldn’t say never, but there are no plans to have that type of performance right now.”

OSHA last month concluded circus staff had overloaded a carabiner clip before the May 4 performance at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. The clip held up a chandelier-like apparatus from which the women were suspended by their hair. It snapped, sending it and the acrobats about 15 feet to the ground before an audience of nearly 4,000 people. One worker on the ground also was injured.

Regulators cited the circus for a serious safety violation and proposed the maximum fine, $7,000, for Feld Entertainment because the company attached two rings to the bottom of the carabiner, rather than one, in violation of what it said was industry practice and of the manufacturer’s instructions. The company has said the clip was carrying a lower load than it was rated to hold.

Photo: Youtube Capture
at Dunkin Donuts Center in Rhode Island. 

OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said this week that the labor department and company will work to reach a settlement agreement, and if that fails, the matter will go before an administrative law judge. He said the process could take weeks or months.

The women suffered broken bones, spinal cord injuries, concussions and other injuries. Some of the acrobats were still unable to walk as of June. A lawyer for several of them did not return messages for comment this month. His clients have said they plan to sue.

Acrobat Samantha Pitard returned to the circus, but the others have not and are being covered by workers’ compensation insurance, Payne said. He said he did not have updates on any of their conditions.