Whether a local government can be held liable for injuries that occur in a park will hinge on the response to the question: are parks public property? A park is considered public property if it is owned by the government. Therefore, a local government can be held liable for injuries that occur in public parks.
Federal, state, and local government entities used to protect themselves against personal injury lawsuits by claiming sovereign immunity. In 1948, however, this privilege was altered when Congress passed the Federal Torts Claims Act (“FTCA”). The FTCA now permits individuals who are injured on federal property or by federal employees to sue the government.
Over time, this Act caused both state and local governments to begin implementing similar rules. As a result, most states allow members of the general public to sue state and local governments for injuries sustained on state property like local public parks.
Additionally, government liability for playground injuries and accidents in public parks may arise in connection to any area of a park, including baseball fields, skateboard parks, and even public pools located on the property in question.
What Is Government Negligence in Public Park Accidents?
A person who suffers a public injury at a park can generally only recover damages from a government agency if they can prove the agency was negligent in maintaining the property.
This is partly because many courts have ruled that government agencies have a duty to exercise the same level of care over public property (e.g., parks) that is required of private parties and must warn, remove, or repair dangerous conditions that occur.
Thus, when a government agency fails to maintain and provide safe public parks, it will be liable for any injuries sustained by a member of the general public on those premises.
What Do I Need to Prove in a Personal Injury Lawsuit for a Playground Injury?
Plaintiffs in playground accident cases must be able to prove several elements in order to bring a successful lawsuit against a government agency. The elements of proof required for playground accident cases are as follows:
- The plaintiff must prove that there is a dangerous or unsafe condition located on the property;
- A government agency either owns or controls the property on which the dangerous or unsafe condition existed;
- The government agency knows or should have known about the dangerous or unsafe conditions;
- The government agency had a reasonable amount of time to repair or make the conditions safer, but failed to do so; and
- The plaintiff was not reckless or careless in causing their own injuries.
It is important to note that the above elements may vary depending on state and local laws.
Is Supervision Required at Public Playgrounds?
In general, government bodies do not have a duty to provide supervision at a public playground. However, if a government agency chooses to offer supervision services (e.g., aids to watch children), then both the agency and supervisor may be held liable for injuries resulting from negligent conduct.
For instance, if a local agency hired a person whom they knew was not reliable or trustworthy, or if a supervisor failed to look after children left under their care.
One other exception as to when supervision may be required at public playgrounds is when a playground is connected to a public school. If teachers or other staff members are responsible for supervising children during recess and a child gets injured because they failed to do their job properly, then the public school and local government could be held liable depending on the facts of the case.
However, supervision is not always required since state and local laws may limit when a party can sue a public school and/or localities for playground injuries. Thus, injured parties should consult state and local laws before filing a lawsuit.
Can State Laws Affect a Local Government’s Liability for Injuries in Public Parks?
State laws regarding public playground liability and related park injuries can affect how vulnerable a local government is to personal injury lawsuits.
For instance, many states have enacted certain regulations that require local governments to be the ones held responsible for injuries that occur in a local public park due to negligence. This is because most local governments have a duty to keep the general public safe from dangerous conditions in public areas.
This duty may include ensuring that playground equipment is constructed with safe materials, placing public park sites in safe areas (e.g., not near a chemical plant with toxic fumes), and fixing any dangerous conditions (e.g., holes) that arise.
Many states have also enacted statutes that provide guidance on when it is the local government’s responsibility, what type of claims can be brought against a local government, and when a local government may be immune from such lawsuits.
Lastly, some states must approve injury claims above a certain amount. Thus, a local personal injury lawsuit may be delayed until the claim is approved at the state level.
What Damages are Available in a Public Park Injury Lawsuit?
Plaintiffs who bring a successful public park injury lawsuit against a local government agency are limited in their recovery. This is because many government agencies place restrictions on the amount of damages that a plaintiff can receive and the types of remedies that are available in such cases.
For example, in a standard private personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff can usually recover both economic and non-economic damages. If a defendant exhibited gross negligence, the plaintiff may also be awarded punitive damages.
In a personal injury lawsuit against a local government agency, however, a plaintiff will typically only be compensated for economic damages. Some government agencies do not permit plaintiffs to recover non-economic damages (e.g., loss of quality of life, emotional distress, etc.). Also, state and federal statutes generally prohibit recovery of punitive damages awards in cases brought against the government.
Accordingly, plaintiffs to public park injury lawsuits will most likely only receive monetary damages as reimbursement for injury-related expenses, such as:
- Medical and/or dental treatments;
- Hospital bills;
- Property damage;
- Lost wages;
- Loss of earning capacity; and
- Various other out-of-pocket costs incurred as a result of the injury.
A court may also order a local government agency to remove unsafe conditions and make any necessary repairs.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me With a Public Park Case?
Public park liability cases can often be difficult to handle without the help of a lawyer. Not only do you need to be familiar with the laws that apply, which often vary widely by jurisdiction, but you also have to be able to identify the parties who are liable as well as the legal claims you can bring against them. Thus, if you have any questions or concerns regarding a public park matter, it may be in your best interest to speak to a local personal injury lawyer.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to answer any questions you may have about your case and can provide legal advice about public park liability laws in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer can also walk you through the legal process, assist you in filing a lawsuit against the responsible parties, and represent you in court.
Finally, if you are not sure whether you should take legal action, your lawyer will be able to predict the potential outcome of your case and any accompanying damages by assessing the facts of your case, interpreting the relevant laws, and comparing your legal issues to similar case results in your area.