Injury on a Commercial Playground: Who is Liable?
Little Susie is playing on your commercial playground. She is having a great time until, suddenly, she is not. The slide she was going down suddenly detached from the tower, and the whole thing went BAM to the ground.
Luckily, little Susie was not actually hurt. But what happens if she breaks her arm? Who is liable for an injury on a commercial playground?
First and foremost, I am not a lawyer. This blog post is not legal advice. You are responsible for your own legal research: this is general information only. You need to know your local laws, regulations, and stipulations which can affect liability. Contact your lawyer or liability insurance provider for counsel.
Potential Liable Parties
The Playground Owner
The first potentially liable party is the playground owner. Here is what lawyers may look for:
- The playground owner, not a third party, is responsible for the playground.
- The injured child was within the age range both recommended by the manufacturer and who would be the expected size and age for this playground.
- The playground owner wasn’t taking care of the playground.
- The injury could have been predicted (i.e., the slide was loose, and someone could get hurt).
- The playground owner could have prevented the injury with proper maintenance (tightening or replacing the slide could have removed the hazard).
This clearly shows the importance of routine maintenance and inspections. You should routinely inspect the playground, use the slides, swing on the swings, and run about it just as a child would do. Check for any bolts, screws, or hardware to ensure tightness.
If you have playground surfacing, ensure you routinely check the depth and the condition of the surfacing. If areas such as under the slides or swings get low, rake it level again or add more mulch. A simple trick for measuring mulch is to mark the inside of the border with a depth gauge. It provides an easy way to note that the mulch is getting low visually.
Documenting your inspections is important. You should have a folder in your office that clearly shows your inspection routine with clear procedures. You must note each part you checked to show thoroughness and attention to safety.
If you find something wrong with your commercial playground equipment, rope off the playground and get the problem taken care of immediately. Don’t risk being found negligent.
The playground manufacturer may be found liable if they created and installed a defective product or had a faulty design. This can include faulty parts or hardware. This is why ASTM standards are so strict: a set that meets these standards limits risk and hazards.
When shopping for a commercial playground, check out the company’s reviews. Look for comments about not passing inspection and items like that. That can help you avoid problems.
As the playground owner, you decide to contract out your playground maintenance. You have a signed contract with an outside party to maintain the playground and surfacing. The contractor could be liable if a child is injured on your commercial playground.
As the commercial playground owner, if you outsource your maintenance, ensure you are doing your due diligence. Ask for their maintenance reports and keep them on file. You need to make sure you follow up on any repairs required to make sure they are done.
When outsourcing your playground maintenance, be sure you are doing your due diligence. Check out reviews, talk to the reps, and ask how they would document their checks and their process for a significant repair.
If little Susie climbs over the rails and up on the roof, who is responsible if she takes a tumble from the roof? The playground rules clearly state to use equipment as intended, the railings and roof height met ASTM standards, and there were no maintenance issues. Who is liable?
If the playground has an active duty monitor, then the monitor may be liable. If the monitor was distracted or refused to take action while Susie was making her way onto the roof, they could be held responsible for the injury. That is why it is vital that there are playground monitors that work in pairs so that if one needs to take a child to the bathroom, the other can monitor the children.
If you don’t have or provide supervision, large signs proclaiming that “Adult Supervision is Required” and “Play at Your Own Risk” are essential for your playground. Don’t assume that people will behave in a sane manner.
As a commercial playground owner, the big takeaway from this blog post is that prevention is better than great lawyers. If you do your due diligence and make safety a priority that is well documented, you lessen your chances of being held liable. Proper signage and training of supervising adults is critical, as is maintaining a regular safety inspection.
Be sure to have your commercial playground inspected and certified on by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector. This gives you another layer of protection as a third party is signing off on the safety of your playground.
Again, I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. If you are considering a commercial playground, I strongly recommend you call your liability insurance provider and talk through this whole conversation. They will be able to guide you on how to protect yourself or, at the very least, point you in the right direction. Another wise step would be a consultation with a lawyer to help you understand what would happen if an injury occurred and how to protect yourself.
Being proactive about the children’s safety and the playground’s maintenance is one of your best defenses should an injury occur on your commercial playground.