Liability for Playground Injuries and Accidents

When a child is injured in a playground accident, it's not always easy to figure out who (if anyone) is at fault.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Playground injuries can occur at schools, daycares, city parks, private homes, and anyplace else with a play structure or play area meant for children. Most of these injuries are caused by unsafe behavior or unsafe equipment, and thankfully most playground accidents don't result in significant injuries. But if your child is seriously injured at a playground, you might want to learn more about legal concepts like "premises liability" and "negligent supervision," which might apply to any personal injury claim you decide to make.

Premises Liability and Playground Accidents

School districts and property owners have a legal obligation to protect children from certain dangerous conditions on play areas (the "premises"). To recover compensation (damages) in a playground injury case based on a premises liability theory, you usually 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 (under a negligence standard)
  • the child was injured in a foreseeable way, and
  • the defendant's carelessness was a key cause of the child's injury.

For example, let's say a child is injured by a sharp edge on a metal slide, and the local school district has clear authority over the playground area. Obviously, the school expects students to play on 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 rarely (or never) inspected the equipment, the school could be said to have failed to exercise a reasonable amount of care by letting the equipment deteriorate over a period of years. Injury due to poorly-maintained playground equipment is a foreseeable harm. The school's failure to discover and fix the problem with the slide would be the main cause of the child's injury.

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

Negligent Supervision of Children on Playgrounds

School districts, day care operators, teachers, staff, and other employees usually have a special duty of care when it comes to protecting children from foreseeable dangers, because these individuals are said to be acting in loco parentis, which is Latin for "in the place of parents." These entities and individuals must take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to students and children, and that means having an effective system of supervision in place.

To bring a successful personal injury case based on negligent supervision, you usually need to show that:

  • the defendant agreed to supervise your child
  • the defendant did not take reasonable steps to ensure your child's safety, and
  • your child's injury was caused at least in part by the inattentiveness of the defendant.

Let's say students are let out to play at recess, the staff member who is in charge of supervising the playground is still in the restroom, and a fight erupts near the slide. If the fight escalates and a child is pushed off the slide and breaks an arm, the school might be liable for injuries caused by negligent supervision of the children. Note that it's not always easy to establish liability in these kinds of cases. Learn more about negligent supervision as grounds for a personal injury claim.

Immunity from Lawsuits

The right to sue a public school or a city for playground injuries may be limited by state and local laws concerning government immunity and injury suits against the government. But no similar immunity exists for private schools, daycares, and private homes. If your child was injured on a playground, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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