By Francis M. Smith
Most of the time, discussions of slip and fall accidents are framed around adult injuries; most of the time when children trip or slip, they suffer nothing worse than a scraped knee and a bit of a scare. But parks and playgrounds, with their elevated platforms, hard surfaces, and the presence of other children, offer opportunities for a child to sustain more serious injuries in a falling accident. Each year more than 200,000 children under 14 suffer accidents on the playground that require medical treatment, and many of these accidents are playground falls. Injuries to children are difficult to contemplate, but when a parent or caregiver is faced with the reality of this kind of accident, it's vital to know how to proceed.
As with any slip and fall accident, the first priority must be to seek medical attention for any serious injuries. A playground fall may result in broken bones or dislocations, traumatic brain injury (TBI), eye trauma, internal injuries, as well as soft-tissue damage. Second only to getting medical care for your child, the next most important thing to do is gather evidence about how the accident took place and what caused it. As soon after the accident as possible, you should try to take photographs or video of the area where your child fell, showing whatever physical hazards contributed to the accident such as uneven mats or flooring material, potholes, drains, or debris. The parties responsible for maintenance of the site will likely attempt to fix the hazard soon after the injury, so preserving photographic evidence promptly is very important. Witness statements from bystanders can also be very valuable for an eventual injury claim.
In going forward with a claim for a playground fall, one factor that will affect your case in a significant way is who controls the property where the accident took place. There are playgrounds in public parks, at schools (public and private), day care centers, and even fast-food restaurants; playsets on private property may also be the scene of a falling accident. Pursuing an injury claim for a playground fall at a public park or school will have different requirements compared to a fall at a private day care or restaurant, due to the set of laws governing and restricting tort claims against government entities (Title 59). If the injury took place in the yard of a private residence, the homeowners' insurance of the householder may cover medical expenses up to a certain dollar amount without having to prove fault. Playground falls at business locations are handled like any other premises liability claim on commercial property.
It can be somewhat more difficult to prove fault in a case wherein a child is injured, simply because the child might not be old enough to clearly and reliably explain how the accident took place. In a playground fall at a school or day care setting, negligence on the part of the staff responsible for supervising the children may have been a contributing factor. This can happen with even well-intentioned caregivers: if one child has a problem, the attention of the staff may be drawn away from the other children in order to deal with the issue. If the day care center or school is understaffed, this kind of distraction may mean that for a few critical moments, no one is paying attention to your child. Of course, some caregivers may simply be irresponsible, and distracted with their smartphones or other tasks not related to their job. In either case, it may be useful to speak with other parents to find out if they have observed similar negligence in the past, and whether they have lodged complaints.
At a public park or commercial play area in which the parent or guardian of the child is responsible for supervision, poor maintenance or design of the playground may be responsible for a child's injuries. Damage from weathering can cause cracks, splintering, and other imperfections on outdoor playsets that can catch a child's clothes or shoes, and indoor play areas may have similar damage from wear and tear, and the raised edges of rubber flooring mats may also constitute a tripping hazard. If your child runs afoul of poorly-maintained equipment, you may be able to seek compensation from the parties responsible for the property.
When you seek damages for your child's injuries, the lost wages you incur through staying home to take care of your injured child, and the pain and suffering your child experienced, can be incorporated into the compensation you seek. In some instances, emotional distress claims may be available to a close family member (like a parent or sibling) who has witnessed the injury. In any case, seeking the help of an experienced personal injury attorney is important for overcoming the particular challenges of playground fall injuries.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.