Summertime means children are done school and outside and playing. During the hottest months of the year, children love to go to the local playground either at the school, or the local park and enjoy the nice weather. While every parent know that when they send their child to the playground they may come back with some cuts and bumps, some parents get a much scarier phone call, one telling them that their child has been severely injured while on the playground.
Statistics on Playground Injuries
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year in the United States, more than 200,000 children 14 years of age and younger are treated in emergency departments for playground-related injuries.
- From 2001-2008, there were 2,691 incidents associated with playground equipment reported to CPSC staff for all ages.
- Of the 2,691 incidents reported to CPSC staff, 1,810 (67%) involved falls or equipment failure.
- Of the 2,691 incidents reported to CPSC staff, 1,548 (58%) involved swings, slides, climbers, or monkey bars. This may reflect popularity more than any danger inherent in these equipment types.
- Heavy reporting from Wisconsin day care centers skewed the distribution of incident locations in the data. Of the 1,680 non-Wisconsin incidents reported to CPSC staff, 1,132 (67%) occurred at home or restaurant location.
- Of the 1,574 incidents reported to CPSC staff in which the victim’s age was known, 852 (54%) involved children under the age of five.
- Of the 2,691 incidents reported to CPSC staff, 1,976 (73%) involved a minor injury not requiring hospitalization.
Reading these statistics can be a bit frightening, and may leave you with some questions about who is to blame if your child has been in an accident.
Who is Responsible for Injuries?
If your child has been injured on a school playground or a public playground you, you may be able to recover for financial damages and losses that you sustained. These damages may be able to compensate for medical bills and other costs that are associated with an injury. However, when the dust settles you probably want to know who you can hold liable for these injuries. Most cases that are filed are brought under a premises liability theory. Under this theory for a person to bring a lawsuit seeking to recover for a playground injury they must show:
- The defendant was in charge of the property
- That 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
- The defendant’s carelessness was a major cause of the child’s injury.
An important thing to consider when there has been an injury on a playground is who is in control of the playground. Under “The Governmental Tort Claims Act,” the local government and even a school may not be liable for the injuries.
Government and School Immunity
While your children may be playing on a public playground or at the school playground you might assume that the local government or the school would be liable in the event that your child was injured while there. However, Oklahoma like many states has enacted certain government immunities that prevent a government from being sued in certain instances.
The Act declares that Oklahoma adopts the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The state, its political subdivisions, and all of their employees acting within the scope of their employment, whether performing governmental or proprietary functions, shall be immune from liability for torts. The state, only to the extent and in the manner provided in this act, waives its immunity and that of its political subdivisions. In so waiving immunity, it is not the intent of the state to waive any rights under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The state or a political subdivision shall not be liable under the provisions of this act for any act or omission of an employee acting outside the scope of employment.
The Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (OGTCA) similarly protects school employees from any damages that are caused by the negligent acts of school employees while acting within the scope of their employment. Oklahoma’s Child Care Standards include playground safety. The Oklahoma Administrative Code includes standards for playgrounds in child care settings as part of its licensing standards. (O.A.C. 340:110-3-22). The standards make no mention of CPSC guidelines; rather, the standards set out, for the most part, weaker requirements than CPSC and ASTM. For example, the regulations maintain that grass is an acceptable surface under equipment less than four feet high (340:110-3-22(b) (2) (B)), and that six inches of loose fill material is sufficient for adequate protective surfacing (340: 110-3-22(b) (4)). The regulations set out standards for fall zones of at least six feet for all equipment except for swings, which require a fall zone a distance twice the length of the swing’s chain. The regulations also include entrapment and entanglement hazard prevention, as well as swing seat composition requirements.
This means that in certain instances where the playground does not conform to the standards set forth there is potentially some liability.
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