Playground Accidents & Injury Liability

There are several legal concepts which may determine liability when a child is injured in a playground accident.

Playground injuries can occur at public schools, private schools, daycares, city parks, and private homes. Most of these injuries are caused by unsafe behavior by children or by unsafe equipment. If your child was seriously injured while playing on a playground, you may want to learn more about the legal concepts of premises liability and negligent supervision of children, which might be utilized in a claim for injury compensation.

Premises Liability

Schools and other operators of playgrounds have a duty to protect children from foreseeable dangers on the premises. To bring a suit to recover for a playground injury based on a premises liability theory, you must show that:

  • the defendant was in charge of the property
  • the injured child was the type of person that the defendant could expect to be on the property
  • the defendant did not exercise the proper amount of care
  • the child was injured in a foreseeable way, and
  • the defendant’s carelessness was a major cause of the child’s injury.

For example, in a case where a child is injured on a school playground by a sharp crack in a metal slide, the school has authority over the playground area. The school expects students to play on the school playground equipment. To make the playground reasonably safe, the school has a duty to regularly inspect the playground equipment and repair any problems. If the school in question never inspected the playground equipment, the school failed to exercise a reasonable amount of care. It would not be surprising that the equipment had deteriorated in a dangerous way over a period of years. Injury due to decaying playground equipment is a foreseeable harm. The school’s failure to discover and fix the problem with the slide would be the major cause of the child’s injury.

With facts such as these, the elements of a premises liability case would be met, and the school or owner/operator of the playground could be deemed negligent.

Negligent Supervision of Children

When someone accepts the responsibility of watching your child, that person could be liable for harm that comes to your child because of a lack of supervision. School teachers and staff have a heightened duty of care toward your child because they are acting in loco parentis, which is Latin for "in the place of parents," at school. They must take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to students. The school must have an effective system of supervision in place to keep students safe. Other organizations and individuals that agree to watch your children also have a duty to act with reasonable care to avoid injury to your children.

To sue for negligent supervision, you need to show that:

  • the defendant agreed to supervise your child
  • the defendant did not properly monitor your child, and
  • your child was hurt because of the inattentiveness of the defendant.

One example of this type of claim is where children at school are let out to play at recess without any supervision and a fight erupts. If the fight escalates and a child is pushed off a climber and breaks an arm, the school could be sued for negligent supervision of the children. The school has the responsibility of monitoring the students. If a staff member had supervised recess and stopped the fight, this incident likely would not have occurred.

Immunity from Lawsuits

The right to sue a public school or a city for an injury that occurred on its playground may be limited by your state’s laws concerning governmental immunity and injury suits against the government. Some states are more liberal than others in permitting recovery against public schools and cities for playground injuries. No similar immunity exists for private schools, daycares, and private homes, however. If your child was injured on a playground, you may want to consult a lawyer about your state’s laws and your chance of recovery.

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