Who is Liable When a Child is Injured on a Playground?
Playgrounds are meant to be very happy places for children. They give kids a chance to run around, play, and have fun. But they’re also an environment where injuries are very likely to happen. When kids are running around and climbing on equipment, accidents are likely to happen. So if a child is injured in a playground accident, who is liable?
When it comes to liability in playground accidents, it all comes down to what actually caused the injury: unsafe equipment or inadequate supervision.
If the injury is the result of faulty or poorly maintained playground equipment, liability would fall on the person or party responsible for keeping the equipment in safe, usable condition. Playground owners have a responsibility to keep the equipment in safe condition to protect children from foreseeable harm. This theory of liability is called “premises liability.” To be responsible under premises liability, all of the following criteria must be met: the defendant is responsible for the property, the injured child could reasonably be expected to be on the property, the defendant neglected to show an adequate amount of care for the property, the child was injured in a foreseeable way, and the defendant’s neglect was largely responsible for the injury.
Under premises liability, a school could be responsible for a student’s injuries if the child was injured when the chain of a swing on the school’s playground broke during recess one day and the injury could have been prevented if the school had been more diligent about maintaining its playground equipment. But premises liability wouldn’t apply if a child is injured on the school playground after one student accidentally bumps into another student during recess, causing the other student to fall down.
In many cases, playground injuries are caused by a simple lack of adult supervision. 45% of all playground injury cases can be tied to either improper supervision or a lack of adult supervision. Parents aren’t the only people who can be responsible for a child’s supervision; this responsibility can also fall to teachers, coaches, camp counselors, day care providers, babysitters, nannies, or anyone else who agrees to undertake the responsibility of watching a child. When a person agrees to watch a child, they are acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents) and therefore have a responsibility to keep children safe from predictable dangers.
Since playgrounds are an environment where accidents can happen even with the best supervision, for the adult to be liable, the injury would have to be something that could have been avoided with better supervision or the result of an action a reasonable adult would see as being potentially dangerous but did nothing to stop it. For example, let’s say a babysitter brings a child she’s watching to the park and the child breaks an arm after falling off a jungle gym he was climbing on improperly. The babysitter could be responsible if she had seen the child behaving dangerously and did nothing to stop it or if she didn’t notice the risky behavior because she was talking to a friend at the time of the accident.