Playground Injury Claims: Parent’s Guide to Liability and Compensation

Here’s what to do if your child is seriously injured on the playground. Learn who is liable and how to get the most financial compensation for your child.

Every year more than 200,000 children under the age of 14 are treated in emergency rooms for playground injuries.

More than 20,000 of the children treated have suffered traumatic brain injuries. ¹

Children between the ages of 5 and 12 suffer the most playground injuries, with slightly more boys than girls getting hurt. ²

Sometimes when our kids get hurt, it’s purely accidental. But what if that playground injury could have been avoided? When your child is seriously injured on a playground because of faulty equipment or someone’s negligence, your child deserves compensation.

Common Causes of Playground Accidents

Playgrounds are wonderful places for children to exercise their bodies, burn off excess energy, and make new friends. Unfortunately, playgrounds can also be dangerous for our kids. The most common playground injuries include:

  • Scrapes and bruises
  • Broken bones, usually arms
  • Concussions and other head injuries
  • Dislocations
  • Internal injuries

The most common causes of playground injuries include:

Lack of Supervision: Most playground accidents happen at schools, including daycare centers, and parks while the children are under the supervision of a teacher or daycare provider.

Teachers and daycare providers can become distracted. If they’re watching out for multiple children, it’s common for them to take their eyes off one while tending to the needs of others. Sometimes, the person responsible for your child is looking at their phone instead the children, or they’re distracted by other things.

Trips and Falls: Some of the most serious, sometimes fatal injuries occur from falls to the playground surface. Children can fall from monkey bars and other climbing equipment, as well as tripping and falling over tree roots, stumps, or rocks.

Strangulation: The most commonly fatal playground injuries are caused by strangulation. Children are strangled by a combination of swings, slides, jump ropes, dog leashes, drawstrings on clothing, and more.

Child-on-Child Injuries: Some children are overly aggressive. Even at young ages, they can become territorial while on playgrounds, biting, scratching and pushing another child from high slides or other equipment.

Dog Bites: Some parents bring their dogs along to public playgrounds. The frenzied energy of children playing and laughing can lead some dogs to react inappropriately and aggressively. Children are the most common victims of dog attack injuries.

Poor Maintenance: Municipalities and private entities must maintain playgrounds on their property. Playground equipment can rust, rot, and splinter over time. Guardrails can be broken or loose.

Faulty Equipment: Children may be injured by faulty playground equipment due to poor design, manufacturing flaws, or lack of maintenance information provided by the manufacturer.

Unsafe Playground Surface: Playgrounds should have soft material under all equipment, such as sand, rubber, woodchips, or mulch. The material should be distributed evenly and deep enough to cushion a child’s fall.

The Law and Your Child’s Injuries

Who’s responsible when your child is injured on the playground? One or more of the following parties may be held liable:

  • The property owner or manager
  • The playground equipment manufacturer
  • The person who was supervising your child at the playground
  • The parents of the child who injured your child
  • The owner of the dog that bit your child

Property owners and their management staff have a legal duty of care (obligation) to make the playgrounds and adjacent areas safe for children. This means they must do everything reasonably possible to ensure the safety and well being of children invited to use the playground, including repairing or eliminating dangerous conditions.

Playground property owners may be schools, daycare providers, mall and restaurant owners, and any other business entity that offers a playground area for visiting children.

Playground equipment manufacturers are required to meet standard consumer safety specifications. Poor design, defects in construction, or inadequate use and maintenance guides can all lead to serious playground injuries.

School and daycare workers have a unique obligation to protect the children in their care. The Latin phrase in loco parentis means “in place of the parent” and describes the high standard of childcare expected from a teacher or daycare worker.

Parents of the at-fault child can be held responsible for the harm caused by their child. Many states make the parents financially accountable for injuries caused by their children.

Dog owners are responsible for any unprovoked dog attack on a child, even if the dog was on a leash.

All these parties owe your child a specific duty of care, meaning they have a legal obligation to protect your child from undue harm. When it comes to playground injury claims, it helps to understand some more terms used by lawmakers and attorneys:

  • “Negligence” happens when a property owner, manufacturer, teacher, or daycare provider fails in their duty of care.
  • “Liability” means responsibility. The negligent party, like a property owner, is usually liable for the injured child’s damages.
  • “Damages” for a child’s injuries include medical costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Children with permanent injuries may also seek compensation for the loss of future earning capacity.

In general, the injured child’s family won’t be able to recover compensation for their emotional distress. However, when a child has suffered severe, debilitating or fatal injuries, the attorney can bring a claim for loss of consortium, meaning the parent’s loss of their child’s help, affection, and company.

Proving a Playground Injury Claim

Sometimes kids get hurt and no one is to blame. Accidents happen. But when one or more parties are to blame for your child’s injury, the burden is on you and your child’s attorney to prove it. You must prove the at-fault party did something wrong, or failed to do what a reasonable person would do.

For a claim against the property owner, you’ll have to show:

  • The owner oversaw the playground
  • The owner could expect children to play there
  • The owner negligently allowed a dangerous condition on the playground
  • The owner knew or should have known of the danger to children
  • The owner’s negligence was the main cause of your child’s injury

For claims against a school or daycare center you must show:

  • The person supervising your child owed your child a duty of care
  • The person failed to monitor your child adequately
  • The lack of supervision caused your child’s injuries

For claims against a manufacturer you must show:

  • The manufacturer had a duty to meet playground safety standards
  • The playground equipment was defective
  • The manufacturer knew or should have known the defective equipment was hazardous to children
  • The defective equipment caused your child’s injury

For dog bite injury claims you may need to show:

  • Your child did not provoke the attack
  • The owner did not have control over their dog

States, cities, and towns all have different dog bite laws. Your burden of proof may be different, depending on where you live.

Gathering Evidence for Playground Injury Claims

When your child has been hurt in a playground accident, it’s up to you to prove if that accident was caused by negligence. To prove negligence, and to support the value of your child’s injury claim, you’ll need to gather strong evidence.

Begin collecting evidence from the start:

Prompt Medical Attention: If your child isn’t transported directly to the hospital from the playground, take them for a medical evaluation as soon as possible, preferably the same day. If your pediatrician isn’t available, go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.

Be sure to tell the medical provider and any specialists who treat your child exactly when, where, and how your child was injured.

Delaying medical treatment will seriously undermine your child’s injury claim, making it very difficult to prove the injuries happened on the playground.

Photographs and Videos: Photographs and videos are often invaluable. They can graphically illustrate the dangerous condition that caused your child’s injury. Because the playground property owner or manager may rush to repair the dangerous condition, it’s vital you move quickly to photograph and video the scene.

Take pictures of your child’s injuries as soon as possible after the accident, and throughout the recovery period.  These pictures will tell the tale of your child’s suffering. Photographs of your child in a hospital bed, in a wheelchair, or wearing a cast can be very compelling evidence.

Witness Statements: Written or recorded statements from anyone who witnessed the incident are very important. Not only can they support the cause of your child’s injury, but they can also affirm the pain and suffering your child experienced immediately afterwards.

For example, let’s say your child is injured by falling from the top of a slide at the daycare center. You have reason to believe the fall wouldn’t have happened if there was adequate supervision. Look for other daycare workers, parents, and anyone else who was there when your child fell. Ask them to write down everything they saw and heard, and to sign and date their written statement.

Contact other parents whose children attend the same daycare to see if they were aware of supervision problems, and if so, whether they complained to the owners or management. Ask them to write out their observations and experiences, and sign and date their statement.

Emergency Responder Reports: If your child’s injuries are serious enough to require paramedics, it’s likely the police will also respond. Make clear exactly what caused your child’s injury. Point out any unsafe conditions that caused the injuries and direct the police to any witnesses.

Within a week or two of the incident, you can usually obtain a copy of the police report online or by mail for a nominal fee.

Proof of Damages: Personal injury claims are only valid when there are documented injuries and damages. Claims based on what could have happened, or out of anger at perceived wrongdoings of a playground property owner or staff, will fail.

Request copies of all your child’s treatment records and bills related to the playground injury. Treatment records and bills may include:

  • Life flight trauma services
  • Ambulance and paramedic services
  • Emergency room
  • Specialist care like neurosurgeons, orthopedists, etc.
  • Dental care
  • Mental health care
  • Rehabilitation services

Keep receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses for medications, assistive devices, bandages, and so on.

If your child had a long recovery and required tutoring at home, you can claim the costs for the teacher, books, and supplies.

If the injury disabled your child, the attorney could seek compensation for loss of future earnings.

Keep a diary of your child’s injuries, care, and recovery. Include dates and notes of your child’s pain levels, medical appointments, and the effects the accident has had on your child. Include details such as bedwetting, bad dreams, and missed sport or social events.

The medical records and bills will be the largest factor in calculating compensation for your child, while the diary will help support fair compensation for your child’s pain and suffering.

When Your Child Needs an Attorney

If your child has fully recovered from minor playground injuries like sprains, bruising, small cuts, or scrapes, you can probably negotiate a small settlement directly with the insurance company.

Private schools and daycare centers should be able to put you in touch with their insurance carriers. Even some public schools have insurance for minor student injury claims.

Claims Against Government Entities

Most playground injuries happen at schools and parks. Public schools and parks are part of your state and local government, and extremely difficult to sue on your own.

There are extremely short deadlines and convoluted rules for filing injury claims against government agencies. If you make any mistakes, the claim will be denied.

You’ll need an attorney to win government injury claims and other complex claims such as product liability claims, permanent disability, or wrongful death claims.

Severe Injury Claims

For severe injuries, like brain trauma, fractures, disfigurement, or other high-dollar claims, your child should be represented by a skilled personal injury attorney.

Even with the best evidence, only a skilled attorney has the knowledge and legal tools to get the full amount of compensation your child deserves.

The fact is, most states have special rules for handling compensation awarded to children younger than 18 years old. Your attorney will make sure the at-fault party covers the costs of annuities or trust funds for the benefit of your child.

Don’t wait. There’s too much at stake to try handling a serious playground injury claim on your own. There’s no obligation, and no cost to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you and your child.

Playground Injury Claim Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>