The calendar says that it is officially autumn, but on a few days lately it has felt like mid-July. As we deal with summer-like temperatures, children are taking advantage by spending afternoons and evenings on the playground.
It’s not only families; drive past a school during your lunch hour and you may see little ones swinging from tires and climbing on monkey bars. Parents and teachers alike are taking every opportunity to get children outside before the cold weather sets in. While it may be good for children to exercise, playgrounds pose dangers that adults should be aware of. Don’t let your attention wane simply because summer is over.
Proper adult supervision can help to ensure that children do not sustain injuries on the playground. Do not allow children to use equipment outside of the ways it was intended. Don’t take your eyes of kids to check your cell phone or to speak to another adult. Keep your attention on the children and if you see a little one behaving in a way that isn’t safe, have them sit down for a bit.
Before children are allowed to play on equipment, give it a quick once over. Look for loose bolts and screws. Be sure that the equipment is stable. Also check for issues like wasp nests. If you notice any hazards on the playground, look for signage that tells you who owns or operates the play area and advise them of what you have found. Don’t let children play on any equipment that doesn’t appear safe.
Children don’t know what we don’t teach them. Tell your children about expected behavior on a playground. Your kids should know how to use equipment properly, how to treat other children who are playing and when to find an adult. If you notice that your child is not following the rules, take them off of the playground, have a talk with them and try again.
Some playgrounds are contained with netting or ropes. Before you allow your child onto the equipment, look for any tears or rips in the netting. Make sure that spaces between strings and ropes are not so wide that your child’s head could slip through and become caught. Don’t allow your child to wear any clothing with drawstrings and have them remove any jewelry they are wearing.
More cities than ever have spraygrounds or splash pads for children. If you take your child to one of these play areas, make sure that you read the posted rules and share them with your child. Do not let your child drink the water in order to minimize the risk of illness.
The temperatures are high — don’t forget about playground safety while enjoying the weather with your little ones. If your child is injured on a playground in Charlotte, you have legal rights. Call our office today to schedule an appointment for a free case evaluation. We will review the details of your child’s accident and help you make the best decisions for your family.
What should have been a day of fun and laughter turned deadly for an Ohio teenager who was visiting the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2016. Lauren Seitz was whitewater rafting at the recreational facility when her raft overturned. While in the water she was exposed to a rare and deadly amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which was growing in the manmade river.
She returned home, feeling sick. Just 11 days later, she died from a brain infection caused by the amoeba. After this tragic incident, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took samples of the water, and it tested positive for Naegleria fowleri. These findings were deemed significant, as this amoeba had not been found in this particular environment before. The CDC claimed dirt and debris in the water hindered the sanitation process, allowing the amoeba to flourish.
Seitz’s family is suing the U.S. National Whitewater Center and its builder, Recreation Engineering and Planning Inc., in a wrongful death lawsuit. The family claims these parties were reckless and grossly negligent in their care and upkeep for the park, and should be held liable as such.
A lawsuit of this fashion begs the question: What responsibilities to recreational centers, amusement parks and other premises have when their patrons get injured?
Legal responsibilities regarding a patron’s safety falls under premises liability laws. Essentially, premises liability means property owners have certain duties for anyone who enters their property. However, the extent of that responsibility greatly varies, depending on the type of visitor. Additionally these laws may vary from state to state.
There are three broad categories of visitors: Invitees, licensees and trespassers. Invitees are the most common type of visitor to commercial properties and businesses. In the case of a visitor of an amusement park, the visitor has bought a ticket and is legally allowed on the property. A licensee is different, in that they are allowed to be on the property, but weren’t necessarily invited; this classification is almost never used when it comes to amusement parks or businesses in general. Finally, there are trespassers, who are obviously on the property without permission.
Regardless of the type of visitor, business owners have a “duty of care” for their customers. Even a trespasser is owed a minimal duty of care, which means property owners have to at least avoid causing intentional, unnecessary harm. The duty of care for invitees is much more stringent.
First and most importantly, businesses such as amusement parks must ensure that their attractions are safe for use and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. For some attractions such as water parks and amusement parks, this means ensuring rides are regularly maintained and inspected, safety instructions are given and there is employee supervision while the ride is operational. For a park like the US National Whitewater Center, it may mean that lawyers for Ms. Seitz’s family will argue that the facility did not check the water with enough regularity to prevent the amoebas from infesting the manmade and maintained river.
The duty of care applies to other aspects as well. For instance, parks are supposed to keep the grounds clear of hazards. An example would be a pathway that is constantly wet due to a nearby water ride should potentially have signs to warn patrons that the path may be slick. Reported injuries on publicly accessible commercial businesses are common but many could be avoided when proper maintenance and inspection are priorities for the business owners.
Not every injury or incident is a breach of duty of care. For instance, a teenager was recently injured at Six Flags Great Escape in New York because she fell out of a ride. However, an investigation revealed that she fell out due to her own actions, not because of malfunction with the ride. As such, the park did not breach its duty of care. Similarly, if a patron is told to keep their arms and legs inside the ride, but gets injured after ignoring those instructions, the park would likely have a strong defense against claims of negligence.
Every case is different and very factually intensive. For example if a park visitor enters a restricted area that is clearly marked as such, and gets injured, they would likely be treated as a trespasser. Under premise liability laws this classification affects the duty of care that was owed to them and whether or not they are owed compensation for their injuries. However, if signage was ambiguous or nonexistent or the injury was caused in a willful or grossly negligent matter, the park can still potentially be held responsible for injuries.
What about situations where the injured person was clearly not at fault but evidence of the negligence on the part of business is underwhelming? In the event of a ride that was properly maintained but poorly designed, liability may be dispersed to multiple parties such as the companies involved in designing and building the attraction. In some complicated scenarios these types of cases may involve multiple parties and defendants.
In some cases, people may be injured by the acts of a business’ employee or agent. Those situations are very factually dependent and may be contingent on how the injury occurred and in what capacity the agent or employee was working. A case involving a customer injured intentionally by an employee is very different from a case where an employee causes an injury due to oversight or negligence.
There is a common misconception that a property owner or business is always responsible for any injury that occurs on their property. As you can see, these cases hinge on the facts and involve issues that are not always cut and dry. Additionally issues such as governmental immunity, contributory negligence and causation can be relevant factors in assessing liability for injuries that occur on private property. It will be very interesting to see all of the facts that come to light when the case against the U.S. National Whitewater Center is litigated. Regardless of liability, hopefully the case results in the prevention of further injuries.