According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year in the United States emergency rooms treat more than 200,000 children for playground injuries. If your child was injured on a school playground, you may be wondering about your right to bring a claim against the school based on premises liability or negligent supervision of children.
The Duty of Schools
Schools have a duty to act with reasonable care to protect students from foreseeable dangers on the playground. These dangers include unsafe equipment and unsafe behavior by students. When children are at school, teachers and other school staff act in the place of parents to supervise them. The law expects school officials supervising playground activities to act as reasonably prudent parents would in the same situation. Schools also have the responsibility of making their physical premises safe for students. If your child is injured because of a school’s negligence, the school may be liable for the harm to your child.
Premises Liability for Playground Injury
Premises liability is the legal obligation that landowners have to prevent injuries on their property under certain circumstances.
For premises liability to apply, the person injured must be the type of person that the property owner would expect to be on the property. You also must prove that the person in control of the property was some how negligent. This means that the owner knew or should have known of a danger but failed to warn people on the land of the danger, or did nothing to eliminate the danger. In order to recovery in a premises liability suit, the injury suffered must have been one that the property owner could have reasonably foreseen. Schools expect students to be on the playground, especially during recess. For this reason, schools have a duty to make the playground reasonably safe for students. The two most common and foreseeable playground dangers are hazardous equipment and unsafe behavior on the playground.
Hazardous Playground Equipment
In order to protect students from decaying or broken equipment, schools must regularly inspect playgrounds. Unstable equipment can tip over and injure students. Rusted metal pieces or sharp metal or plastic edges also present a risk of harm. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the greatest numbers of playground injuries result from falls from playground equipment. Because falls are a foreseeable way that children can be hurt, the type of material covering the ground of the play area is important. Loose-fill surfacing materials such as woodchips, bark mulch, fine gravel, and fine sand are best for preventing serious injuries from falls from equipment. Concrete, asphalt, and other hard surfaces on playgrounds pose a risk of serious harm to children.
Unsafe Behavior on School Playgrounds
Unsafe playground behavior is a common cause of injury. Courts acknowledge that children do not always act as reasonably as adults. Since it is foreseeable that reckless behavior or fights may occur on school playgrounds, teachers and school staff have a responsibility to monitor the children on the playground. The number of playground injuries and fatalities would be significantly reduced if children were properly supervised. The lack of appropriate supervision contributes to 40% of playground injuries. At school, teachers and school staff have a duty to carefully monitor students at recess and to stop any unsafe play on the equipment.
Negligent Supervision of Children at School
If your child was hurt on the playground largely due to a lack of proper supervision, you could consider bringing a negligent supervision claim. Schools are responsible for supervising students during the school day. While it may not be feasible for school staff to constantly and continuously watch each child on the playground, a recess supervisor should be alert to any signs of dangerous behavior such as jumping from high structures or swings. The supervisor also must be watchful to prevent disagreements between children from escalating into dangerous fights on the playground. If a school official's negligent inattention caused your child to be injured in a foreseeable way on the playground, you may have the basis for a negligent supervision case.
Public School Immunity
Public schools used to enjoy immunity from injury lawsuits because courts considered the schools to be extensions of the state or local government. Now, however, many states allow the families of children injured by playground accidents to sue the school district. While some states allow you to sue when a school is negligent, some states only allow suits if the school is reckless. Generally, it is more difficult to prove recklessness than negligence because you must prove that the school knew of a specific danger and deliberately chose to ignore it. Before suing your child’s school, you should learn how the laws of your state treat suits against public schools and injury claims against the government in general. Consulting a lawyer could be helpful as you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.