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Personal Injury Liability: Public Playgrounds

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Can Local Governments Be Held Liable for Injuries to Children Using Public Playgrounds?

Yes. Local governments are generally obligated to keep public playgrounds free from defects and reasonable dangers on property, and can be held liable for any resulting injury to children.  This obligation is considerably strict, due to the fact that playgrounds are targeted primarily towards infants and young children.

If landscaping, such as trees, are located on a city playground, they likely belong to the city and should be maintained by the city. Any tree or public city property that injured a child while the child is on the public playground would make the city liable for the injuries since the child was injured on a city-maintained playground.

How Can I Bring Suit to Recover For a Playground Injury?

To bring suit to recover for a playground injury based on a premises liability theory, you must show that:

  • the city was in charge of the property where child was injured
  • the injured child was a type of person that the city could expect on the property
  • the city did not exercise proper amount of care
  • the child was injured in a foreseeable way
  • the city's carelessness was a major cause of the child's injury
  • the child suffered damages as a result

Are Local Governments Required to Provide Supervision at Public Playgrounds?

No.  While obligated to keep playgrounds safe, this does not usually require hiring guards or supervisors to oversee children at play.  However, if a local government decides to hire guards anyway, then having guards becomes an additional obligation.  In other words, if a child gets injured due to lack of supervision, the local government can be liable even though providing guards in the first place was voluntary.

So What Does the Obligation to Keep Playgrounds Safe Include?

In order to avoid liability, local government must ensure that the following conditions are met when operating a public playground:

  • Safety in design and placement:  Rides should be easily accessible to children and placed where they will minimize injury (e.g. no swings facing a brick wall)
  • Safety in construction:  Rides should be built in a way that minimizes injury.  Some local governments have even been held liable for building playgrounds on concrete floors.
  • Safety in maintenance:  Local governments are generally obligated to correct potentially dangerous defects, given enough prior notice.

What If the Child?s Injury Was Caused By Another Child?

A local government can still be held liable, as long as use of the playground played a significant role in the injury.  For example, suppose city X has a supervised playground, but the assigned supervisor for the day fails to show up.  Now assume child Y is using one of the swings, when child Z decides to pull on the swing's chain, causing Y to fall and hit their head.  Even though Z is at fault for the injury, X is still responsible because of the lack of supervision.

Can a Local Government Protect Itself With Government Immunity?

Yes.  However, there must be a specific law in place that prevents liability for injuries that occur in public playgrounds.  Broad immunity laws usually will not protect local governments from liability.  In addition, many playground immunity laws provide exceptions that allow local governments to be sued based on specific causes or circumstances.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If your child has been injured while using a public playground, you should contact a personal injury attorney to learn about any possible legal recourse you may have.  A lawyer can inform you about local playground laws in your state or municipality, and determine the strength of your particular case.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-30-2016 02:50 PM PDT

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