Playgrounds at schools provide a useful way for children to relax, exercise, and socialize when not in classes. Each year, though, hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 14 suffer injuries in playgrounds that require emergency treatment. While deaths are relatively uncommon, children may suffer head injuries, broken bones, internal organ injuries, and other injuries that may be painful, prolonged, and costly to treat.
Sometimes safety hazards at playgrounds cause or contribute to injuries. These may involve trip and fall hazards, broken or worn equipment, or a lack of supervision when children are playing. Although they cannot prevent all possible injuries, schools have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to keep children safe when they are at school during school hours. Parents may have a claim against a school or school district if a playground accident resulted from a failure to meet that obligation. They also may have a claim against a manufacturer based on defective equipment at a playground.
Suing a School for Playground Injuries
To hold a school liable for injuries to their child, parents usually need to show that the school failed to use the appropriate level of care under the circumstances, and their child’s injury was a direct and foreseeable result. For example, a school should inspect playground equipment and promptly fix any problems or remove broken equipment. Staff should keep an eye on children using the playground and intervene when hazards arise, such as when a fight develops. If inadequate maintenance or supervision caused the injuries, parents may be able to recover damages for both economic and non-economic forms of harm, ranging from medical bills to their child’s pain and suffering.
If an injury resulted from the negligence of an individual staff member, the school still may be liable under a theory of vicarious liability. This holds employers accountable for the negligence of their employees while they are performing their job duties.
Parents of a child at a public school may need to overcome certain obstacles related to suing the government. These include filing a notice of claim with the school district or the government agency that handles these claims within a certain time after the accident. The notice of claim would need to explain how the accident occurred, describe the injuries that the child suffered, and ask the school district for a certain amount of compensation. Parents generally cannot file a lawsuit without going through this process. Further limitations on lawsuits also may apply. These depend on the state and sometimes the circumstances from which the injuries arose.
Suing a Manufacturer or Contractor for Playground Injuries
While the school is the most obvious defendant, it may not be the only at-fault party. When playground equipment contains a defect, the manufacturer may be liable for resulting injuries. Parents likely could hold the manufacturer strictly liable, rather than proving that it failed to use proper care. A defect might arise from an error during the manufacturing process, or from an inherent safety problem with the blueprint for a product.
In addition to a manufacturer, a contractor might be liable if it failed to install playground equipment properly. Claims against a contractor would involve a theory of negligence rather than strict liability. In other words, parents would need to identify specific actions (or omissions) by the contractor that fell short of the appropriate standard of care in the situation and caused the injuries.
Playgrounds Outside School
If a child is injured in a playground at a property other than their school, parents still may have a claim against the property owner, the manufacturer, the contractor, or a combination. Theories of liability would be similar in these cases.