Playground Accident Case Study
The following personal injury suit example illustrates several important legal issues regarding negligence and product liability in a playground accident. It reviews the accident, liability, injuries, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
A six-year-old child was playing on the playground at a private school. A bench had been placed under a jungle gym the previous week while the children watched a performance on the adjacent school field and it had never been removed. This allowed children to climb upon a glider which they normally could not reach ("but for" the bench being there).
The glider is similar to a zipline in that children hold onto a handle with both hands at one end and either kick off with their feet or they are pushed to the other end by a fellow classmate. The handle is secured to a metal track with rollers and it flies across the track at a high rate of speed. The glider was approximately 7.5 feet above the ground.
The child was pushed too hard and flew to the ground placing her hands out to avoid landing on her face. She contacted the ground with her right hand and stomach, causing a compound break to two bones in her wrist and arm.
This personal injury suit poses two interesting scenarios for liability, one under a negligence theory and one under a products liability theory for failure to warn.
From the first perspective the school is charged with making regular inspections of their property, identifying dangers and either warning of them or removing them. When the bench was placed under the glider for extra seating it should have been removed immediately afterwards, however it was allowed to remain for several days.
Because the bench was there, a child who was too young and too small was able to gain access to the glider which she normally could not reach. Once she was holding the handle, the drop to the ground was too severe for someone of her age and weight causing injury.
The second theory of negligence liability rests in failure to supervise. Schools are also charged with having sufficient playground supervision to ensure that children are safe and using equipment for its designed purpose. On this particular day, there was no adult supervising the playground area, yet children were permitted to play there.
Lastly, products liability holds manufacturers of equipment strictly liable for injuries that occur when individuals use their products. Liability occurs under several scenarios, but here it would be failure to warn.
Had the manufacturer of the jungle gym placed a warning that children under a certain age, height or weight restriction should not be permitted to use the equipment, this would have put the school on notice that a six-year-old should not gain access to the glider. There was no such warning.
So even though the six-year-old gained access from a bench, this is a foreseeable situation and failure to warn still makes the manufacturer liable for a personal injury suit.
Playground injuries account for more than 20% of emergency room visits with compound breaks and fractures being the most common.
However, other more unfortunate situations can include more serious breaks, brain and neck injuries and even death.
In this personal injury suit example the child experienced a compound fracture to her wrist and arm.
The child was transported to the hospital by the school secretary so there was no ambulance expense. The emergency room costs totaled $5,300 including the private orthopedic surgeon who was called to the ER to re-set the arm.
Her subsequent visit to the orthopedist one week later for casting totaled $450 (although insurance was used). Her mother also opted for a water-proof cast which was not covered by insurance resulting in an out-of-pocket expense of $50.
Therefore, her total medical "special damages" were $5,800. Her mother hired an attorney who demanded $23,200 from the school and $50,000 in a products liability action against the manufacturer.
The school's insurance settled with the family for $20,000. Even though they had insurance, they needed to reimburse the insurance company through a process called indemnity. Insurance companies will typically settle for less than the total medical bill however, and mother was able to settle the reimbursement claims for $3,000. Also, in some states, in claims dealing with minors, the attorney can only take a 20% fee.
The products liability claim was more difficult to settle. They initially questioned liability due to the fact that the bench was the main cause of the accident. At the end of the day, however the manufacturer of the playground equipment settled for $25,000 with the family.
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