Spring is right around the corner, and that means more children will be spending more time on this nation’s thousands of public and private playgrounds. When children go back to school in the fall, they continue playing on school playgrounds. Playgrounds are places where children can challenge themselves and make new friends, but playgrounds also present genuine risks and serious hidden dangers.

Every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 children under the age of 14 are taken to emergency rooms for injuries that happen on playgrounds. Almost half of all playground-related injuries are serious injuries – concussions, fractures, internal injuries, dislocations, and injuries that require amputation. In the United States from 1990 through the year 2000, 147 children ages 14 and under died from injuries sustained on playgrounds, primarily from falls and from strangulation.

If your own child is injured on a playground in Southern California, after obtaining medical attention, seek legal advice at once by speaking with an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney. If you can prove that your child was injured because of someone else’s negligence, your family is entitled to compensation for your child’s medical expenses and other injury-related expenses and losses.

Injuries on playgrounds can happen when a child is climbing, sliding, or swinging. If a child slips while climbing, the fall can be several feet or more. Slipping while climbing on a jungle gym or climbing bars can often mean falling against hard metal parts of the device. Bruises, cuts, broken or fractured bones, and concussions and other serious head injuries commonly happen to children on playgrounds. These injuries can happen for any number of reasons, including the poor design and maintenance of playground equipment and the lack of appropriate adult supervision.

WHEN IS PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT DANGEROUS?

Playground equipment is often years old and is sometimes decades old. When municipalities and school districts face financial crunches, upgrading and maintaining playgrounds for safety is not a priority. Over the years, the metal components in outdoor playground equipment will rust or fatigue. Wood rots and weakens, bolts and screws work themselves loose, and ropes become frayed and frail.

Daily exposure and daily use take a hard toll on outdoors equipment. Playgrounds and playground equipment must be inspected and maintained regularly and frequently. The design of a playground and the playground equipment is also essential for safety. Padded equipment and soft surfaces are almost always part of the design of a new playground, but older playgrounds seldom offer these kinds of contemporary safety features. Of course, even a playground with every state-of-the art safety feature still must be inspected frequently.

On any playground – with or without modern safety features – the adult supervision of children is imperative for the prevention of serious injuries. Children don’t have enough experience to understand the risk of climbing too high or behaving foolishly on playground equipment. Adequate and involved adult supervision is integral to the task of keeping children safe on a playground. The failure to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of children on a playground can trigger a negligence claim if a child is injured because of inadequate supervision.

WHO IS LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR PLAYGROUND INJURIES?

Identifying the persons or organizations that may have legal responsibility for a child’s injury on a playground will hinge on the answers to these several questions: Who is the owner of the playground? Who manufactured and installed the playground equipment, and who is responsible for its maintenance? Who was supervising – or responsible for supervising – the child or children?

If a playground is located in a public park, the responsibility for maintenance probably belongs to the local municipality, town, city, or county. Playgrounds at national parks are the responsibility of the federal government. Playgrounds located at schools are typically owned and maintained by the local public school district. School districts, like other governmental bodies, enjoy what is called “sovereign immunity,” so they often cannot be sued, but most states allow at least some types of lawsuits against school districts for injuries to students.

However, there are usually some very precise rules and procedures that must be followed before you can even file a lawsuit against a city, a county, or a school district. If you fail to adhere to these rules, a premises liability lawsuit won’t go anywhere. In southern California, if your child is injured on a school playground or a public playground, discuss your family’s legal rights and options with an experienced Orange County premises liability lawyer.

WHAT IF THE PLAYGROUND IS PRIVATELY OWNED?

In the case of a private school, a church, or a private daycare facility, the owner of the playground may be a non-profit corporation or a for-profit company or corporation. Several national restaurant chains also feature playgrounds on their properties. Any of these corporations or organizations might be legally liable if a child is injured on a playground located on their property.

However, playgrounds are rarely designed or constructed by their owners. That job is typically awarded to one or more local contractors. Specific pieces of playground equipment may be selected by the property owners or by the construction contractors. Depending on the reason for a child’s injury on a playground, the playground owner(s), the contractor(s) who built the playground, and the company or companies that manufactured the playground equipment might have liability for a child’s injury.

Some states now enforce laws that establish minimum safety standards for playgrounds including design standards for playground equipment. Even though playground injuries may not be the direct fault of the governmental bodies, school districts, or private companies that operate playgrounds, under premises liability law, land owners and playground operators have a legal duty to inspect their premises to eliminate safety hazards.

Nothing is more important than your children. When a family can prove that their child was injured on a playground because of negligence, an owner or a playground operator can be held liable with a premises liability claim. Product liability claims can be filed against the manufacturers of dangerous or defective playground equipment. In southern California, if your child is injured on a playground, an experienced Orange County premises liability lawyer can assess the case and determine if grounds exist for filing a claim.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.