Playgrounds are a place of fun and excitement where children can physically challenge themselves and make new friends, but they also present risks and hidden dangers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year hospital emergency rooms treat more than 200,00 children age fourteen and younger for playground-related injuries. Of those playground injuries, the vast majority occur at schools and day care facilities.
Unfortunately, injuries to children at playgrounds can often be severe. The CDC estimates that playgrounds have a higher rate for severe injuries than bicycle accidents and even automobile accidents. This is due to a number of factors. Injuries on playgrounds often occur while a child is climbing, swinging or sliding. If a child slips while climbing the fall can often be several feet or more to the ground. A slip while climbing on a jungle gym or climbing bars can often mean falling against other hard points on the apparatus. The following injuries are often seen on playgrounds:
- broken or fractured bones
- concussions or other head injuries
- dislocations, and
- internal injuries.
Common Causes of Playground Injuries
Any number of factors can play a role in causing playground injuries, but there are some elements that are more common than others. Let's take a look at some of them.
Poor Maintenance or Design of Playground Equipment
In many areas, playground equipment can be several years, if not decades, old. Over the years significant deterioration of equipment can occur depending on the construction materials used. For example, metal components can rust or fatigue. Screws and bolts come loose. Wood rots and deteriorates. Ropes become frail. Everything from exposure to the elements to daily use by children takes a toll on the condition of equipment. Sharp edges, protruding nails or screws, or unexpectedly slippery surfaces often result from the regular use of playground equipment. Because of those factors, it is important that the playground and its equipment be regularly inspected and maintained.
Along with maintenance, proper design of the playground and its equipment is very important. For example, a regular risk inherent in any playground is that children will fall, whether from the equipment or merely while running across the ground. The presence of a soft falling surface, as with other design elements, is an important aspect of a safe playground.
Lack of Adequate Supervision
One of the most important factors in preventing playground injuries is the regular observation and supervision of the children.
At a young age, children are often unaware of their own limitations. They rarely have the necessary experience to appreciate the risks that come with running too fast or climbing too high. Because of that, adequate adult supervision is an integral part of providing children a safe environment while on the playground.
The level of supervision required depends on various factors, including the age of the children and the level of risk associated with any particular playground activity. But the failure to take reasonable steps to ensure a child's safety can give rise to a negligence claim if a child is injured as a result of inadequate supervision. Learn more: What is Negligent Supervision?
Who is Liable for Playground Injuries?
Identifying the persons or entities responsible for a child’s injury on a playground will depend on a number of factors:
Who Owns the Playground?
If the playground is at a public park, the entity responsible for its maintenance is probably the local municipality, meaning the town, the city, or even the county. The federal government typically maintains playgrounds at national parks.
Playgrounds at schools are usually owned and maintained by the public school district. (Learn more: Can I Sue the School District for My Child's Injuries?)
In the case of a private school or day care facility, typically a church or other not-for-profit entity owns the playground. A national restaurant chain or a local franchising company often owns playgrounds at restaurants. In the case of a playground injury, any of these entities might be responsible for some aspect of the playground design, construction or maintenance.
Who Designed and Built the Playground?
Playgrounds are rarely designed or constructed by the entity that ultimately owns the property on which the playground sits. Even in the case of a town or a school, the design and construction of a playground is usually contracted out to a local construction company. The construction company often hires other companies to design the playground or provide the components and materials for the equipment. Depending on the cause of a child’s injury on the playground, the actions of any of those entities might have played a role in causing the injury if the design or construction of the equipment was a factor.
Many states have passed laws setting minimum standards for playground safety, including design standards for playground equipment. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) also offers standards for the safe design and manufacture of playgrounds and equipment. Check it out at CPSC: Playground Safety.