Playground Accidents – Why so many are preventable?
Playgrounds are readily available and serve a variety of purposes – your children have fun, they socialize and meet new friends, they get exercise and they improve their coordination. And because playgrounds are universal and a cheap form of entertainment, your child could be accompanied by a school teacher, a daycare specialist, a nanny, a babysitter or another parent.
Unfortunately for parents, these areas that we associate with fun are often dangerous and the source of preventable accidents. Pay attention to the wording I just used – “preventable accidents”. So many parents, in the aftermath of their child suffering an injury at a playground, are reluctant to pursue a lawsuit, OR AT LEAST CALL A LAWYER because they think that the incident was just an accident. Well, it may be just an accident. On the other hand, you may be surprised to learn that some of these accidents could have been avoided.
Causes of Playground Injuries:
First, let’s look at the most common causes of playground injuries and, as you read through these, you will begin to understand that someone, not the innocent child, bears responsibility for these accidents, and thus could be successfully sued:
- Lack of Supervision: The younger the child, the more supervision they require. So often, we find teachers 30 feet away from a toddler, speaking with their co-workers, or reading a text, when a child gets hurt. On other occasions, a teacher tries her best to supervise, but she gets distracted by one child acting inappropriately, and she forgets to provide supervision to the other kids in her care;
- A Poor Teacher-Student Ratio: This one often associates with “lack of supervision”. Two teachers are supposed to accompany 12 daycare students ranging from age 3 to age 8 to the playground. One teacher calls in sick and suddenly one individual is responsible for 12 children with different interests and energy levels – the teacher can’t watch everybody and someone gets hurt;
- Failure to Issue Appropriate Discipline: Another source of accidents that goes hand in hand with “lack of supervision” is when a teacher spots children acting inappropriately and doesn’t take necessary action, such as issuing a “timeout”. The example that comes to mind is how children use the slides – they are supposed to start on top and slide down. Instead, they jump off. Worse yet, the child up top tries to slide down and knock off his friend who is standing on the sliding pond. This is great fun for a 5 year old, but a professional should immediately see the dangers and take action to make sure this conduct immediately ceases;
- Failure of the Adult in Charge to Read Signs Posted at the Playground or Recognize Dangers: Most parks and equipment have warnings posted on the equipment that say things like “children under 5 should not use” or “children under 50 lbs. should not use” and yet, we still find little Billy, age 4 and 37 lbs., hanging on the monkey bars, 4 feet above the ground. If he drops to the ground and lands awkwardly, suddenly you have a broken leg. In other instances, safety matting placed to provide a soft landing, is ripped up within the playground confines or a tree root poses a tripping threat. A supervising adult should steer children away from these areas.
- Child-on-Child Injuries: Some children are overly aggressive. Even at young ages, they can become territorial while on playgrounds – they fight, scratch, bite, push and someone gets hurt – an adult should recognize bullies or kids that pose a danger to others and prepare;
- Poor Maintenance: This goes to the equipment and not the supervision. Municipalities and private entities must maintain playgrounds on their property. When they don’t, screws get loose, wood rots, metal rusts and ropes weaken;
- Faulty Equipment:Children may be injured by faulty playground equipment – poorly manufactured or designed equipment that leads to product liability lawsuits because the particular part of the playground they designed is dangerous in all 50 states;
- Unsafe Playground Design:Playgrounds have one purpose – to entertain children of different ages. But the designer needs to design with a plan of “safety first”. For instance, a quality designed playground has a soft, almost spongy surface that breaks a fall when you land. Other facilities have wood chips, also designed to break a child’s fall. Others use sand or rubber. The key, of course, is equal distribution. If all of the wood chips are too light and blow away from the see-saw in the wind, or easily get kicked away as the children run, then when a child falls off the see-saw, he lands directly on cement – would anyone be surprised if the child suffers a fracture?;
- Other: Sometimes accidents happen when they simply shouldn’t – we have had cases where a daycare left a driving toy in the sun when it was 90 degrees out and then put the child in diapers in the car. Guess what? She got 2nd degree burns to her rear end and thighs; we had another case where a child almost suffocated when ropes from a rope bridge got wrapped around their neck; another school allowed 120 lb. 9 year old play with a 40 lb. 5 year old – that resulted in the smaller child breaking ribs and a shoulder when the bigger child fell on him – with proper management, these things should never happen.
Who is Responsible? Property Owners, Manufacturers, the Supervising Party
Well, that’s the million dollar question and the answer differs on a case by case basis. The simplest answer would be to ask your lawyer, because if they specialize in playground injuries, they will know. The longer answer is that property owners are responsible for keeping their playground safe – that means they must do everything within their power to ensure safety and anticipate who will be using their equipment and how their equipment will be used, so the dangers can be eliminated – it doesn’t matter whether the owner is McDonalds, a private company or a municipality.
In some cases, it would be the manufacturer of the equipment as there are consumer safety guidelines that they must follow with respect to design, construction, or inadequate maintenance.
In many other instances the fault lies with the person supervising your child, whether it’s a teacher or babysitter – because you entrusted your child to them, meaning they have a unique obligation to protect your children.
Helping Your Child’s Case After an Accident
Following a playground accident, or any accident for that matter, there are things one can do to help their lawyer help you:
– Get Your Child Prompt Medical Attention: When your child takes an ambulance to a hospital directly from a playground, a record is established that demonstrates she was hurt at that location. If you instead choose to take your child to a doctor later, you need to establish a record. Don’t simply tell the doctor that your child fell. Tell the doctor exactly what happened – “my son was playing at Asbury Park when the chain on the swing he was using broke and he landed on his right arm”;
– Photographs and Videos: If a property owner finds out your child was hurt on their playground, they may rush to repair the dangerous condition. So, photos or video showing the defective equipment or hazard, as it existed when your child was hurt is very important;
– Witness Statements: Unless you are a regular at a park and know everybody there, the only time to get witness names is at the time of the accident. Ask any parents, kids, teachers what they saw when your child got hurt, and if they have something helpful to say, then get their phone numbers and contact information, so your lawyer can contact them and get full statements;
– Police/Fire/EMT Reports: If an accident and injury are bad, it’s likely emergency medical providers will arrive. Show them where your child was injured and point out any unsafe conditions that caused the injuries;
– Keep a Post-Accident Diary: Lawsuits take time, so if your child requires the care of many doctors, keep a diary – put the doctors names and locations, why your child was seeing that particular doctor, and whether you had to pay money out of pocket for bills; within the diary you should also put your expenses – you may need to purchase crutches or medicine or pay for tutor because your child is missing classes and needs to catch up, or you may miss time from work to care for your child (for which you are entitled to reimbursement). Finally, an accident can traumatize a young mind, so if your child has bad dreams, needs to sleep in your bed, or you find his grades in school dropping, put that in the diary. It will be a refresher down the road when you need to testify.
When Does Your Child Need an Attorney
If your child suffers what parents call a small “boo boo” – a bruise or scrape – you probably don’t have a case, and even if you do, you’re better off speaking directly to the insurance carrier for the daycare or school and trying to get a few dollars yourself without lawyer’s fees.
But, if your child has a substantial injury, then know that these cases are complicated and you must have a qualified lawyer. You should also act quickly to hire one, as certain playgrounds, such as those in municipal parks, have very short filing deadlines (sometimes 90 days or less) and if you don’t get the paperwork filed on time, your case may be gone.
At the conclusion of an infant’s case, you will also have to file a very comprehensive set of documents, called an Infants Compromise Order and open a Trust Account on your child’s behalf. This requires legal knowledge and can’t be done by a non-lawyer.
Kids get hurt and you can’t always prevent this. But, if you are reading this, next time you take your kids to a playground, ask yourself if it seems safe? Does the cushioning seem protective? Are all the pieces attached? Are there areas where a child could take a bad fall? Also, read the signs posted. And, when you entrust your kids to another parent or facility, make sure they have experience with children and are trustworthy.
Then, if an accident still happens (which I hope it doesn’t), hire a good lawyer quickly to guide you through the process.