Whenever one of almost 200,000 playground injuries occur in the U.S. each year, legal consequences for playground owners are common.
But as injuries on outdated or poorly built playgrounds continue, municipalities are shifting blame to the manufacturers of the playground’s equipment. That means manufacturers, often legally shielded from playground accident claims by contracts with their clients, are now being held responsible for injuries in certain cases.
In February, city officials in Mount Dora, Florida, notified the manufacturer of a slide on a city playground that it would be held liable if any claims were filed after parents complained in January that children were moving too fast down the slide and getting hurt.
As cities continue to shift more liability to playground manufacturers, legal experts say manufacturers could face major lawsuits from families with children hurt by defective equipment.
Particularly in major cities, where there is a higher aggregation of public playgrounds, personal injury suits involving play equipment can be a serious hit on city coffers.
In 2015, the New York Post reported that injuries on the city’s playgrounds cost taxpayers around $20 million between 2005 and 2015. During that time, personal injury lawsuits increased 53 percent – a troubling trend for city legal departments.
With lawsuits increasing, manufacturers are bearing some of the burden for defective equipment, but lawyers say establishing a manufacturer’s liability and proving negligence in court can be difficult.
“First of all, proving negligence in a product liability, particularly when it involves something as complex as playground equipment, is no easy task,” according to the California-based Compass Law Group.
To establish a negligence claim on the manufacturer, plaintiffs are required to meet one of four basic standards:
- A manufacturer violated state-specific product liability laws.
- The equipment involved in the injury was manufactured in a way that made it dangerous.
- There was an error in the manufacturing process.
- The manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings on the equipment’s use and how to avoid injuries.
However, courts frequently require plaintiffs to provide documentation that shows a manufacturer either knew or should have known about defects in their equipment.
“In order to prove that a playground equipment manufacturer was negligent, you must show that the company was aware or should have reasonably been aware of some kind of defect or flaw that resulted in an injury,” according to Santa Barbara, California-based NordstrandBlack law firm. “It is not enough that part of the equipment broke.”
Can manufacturers protect themselves?
With so many negligence cases filed each year nationwide, manufacturers are looking for options to both prevent injuries and protect themselves from court challenges.
According to Playground Equipment USA, a Maryland-based playground equipment and services company, playground owners and manufacturers should follow 10 rules to help avoid injuries and negligence suits:
- Read and follow guidelines in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety
- Receive an inspection from a Certified Playground Safety Inspector
- Install adequate surfacing
- Ensure your playground’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Document everything
- Buy and install quality equipment
- Avoid wooden equipment
- Ensure appropriate supervision on the playground
- Install signage and labels on all equipment
- Secure the playground after dark
For manufacturers, staving off negligence suits means working with clients to ensure that the equipment is property stalled, maintained and used.
With proper signage and labeling, manufacturers can show that they clearly provided instructions for use that could help them prevent costly settlements in court.
Special to PNW by Kyle Blankenship