Symonds v. City of Pawtucket – Playground Injury Lawsuit

Some view playground injuries as a kind of unfortunate childhood rite of passage.

But in many cases, injuries sustained by children are serious, and it may be necessary to consider legal action.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of the 200,000 children under 14 rushed to hospital emergency rooms every year for playground injuries, about 45 percent are serious. These involve:

  • Fractures
  • Internal injuries
  • Concussions
  • Amputations
  • Dislocations
  • Severe scarring

Death resulting from playground activity is relatively rare, but 150 cases were reported from 1990 to 2000. Most of those were attributed to either strangulation or falls.

In the case of non-fatal injuries, most of these occur at public playgrounds, such as those owned or operated by schools and cities.

Proving liability in these cases can be tough, and will depend heavily on the circumstances. In general, our child injury lawyers recognize that if a playground is free and open to the public, it may be difficult to obtain compensation because of Alabama’s Recreational Use statute. Code of Alabama Title 25, Chapter 15, spells out duty of care owed by persons on premises for sporting or recreational purposes.

Under that law, in general, landowners are not required to keep their premises safe or to warn visitors of hazardous conditions if they offer their property to the public for recreational purposes free of charge. They cannot, however, deliberately endanger people. This provision can apply to a government entity, such as a city that maintains a park.

The provision is not valid for those that collect fees or rent for use of land. So for example, a day care center where parents pay to send their children would not have the same level of protection.

Plus, day cares and schools owe additional responsibility to appropriately supervise young children in their care. And if the injury resulted due to faulty or defective equipment, it may be grounds for a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer or distributor.

In the recent case of Symonds v. Pawtucket, before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the issue was whether summary judgment favoring defendant city in a playground injury case was proper due to that state’s recreational use statute.

According to court records, a minor child was playing on a wooden jungle gym when a wooden piece of the equipment splintered off and pierced her skin. Plaintiff would later contend this injury was the result of the poor condition and maintenance of the equipment, which involved wood that was frayed, slivered and split.

Plaintiff’s mother contacted the city parks department and was told it was not in charge of maintaining the playground.

However, some months later, plaintiff became aware the wooden jungle gym equipment was replaced with new, non-wooden equipment.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter, alleging negligence.

Defendant responded with an affirmative defense of immunity, citing the Recreational Use Statute. Plaintiff responded that defendant’s failure to warn or guard against the danger was both willful and malicious, which is the threshold a plaintiff would need to prove in order to overcome the recreational use statute’s application. However, defendant countered it had no prior knowledge of a problem, and had never received complaint of a child injury.

Trial court granted summary judgment, and the state supreme court affirmed. The court noted plaintiff offered no evidence indicating the city had knowledge of the gym’s dangerous condition. Presence of a dangerous condition alone is not sufficient to meet the exception criteria of the recreational use statute.

Children deserve safe spaces to play, and all of this is not to say that litigation for playground injuries should not be pursued. But action must be approached strategically. An experienced injury attorney can help.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:

Symonds v. Pawtucket, Nov. 3, 2015, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp. – Faulty Bridge Repair Results in Crash, Sept. 22, 2015, Montgomery Accident Attorney Blog

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