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Understanding School Playground Liability in Massachusetts

As children settle into the new school year, school playgrounds are once again being put to the test. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that an estimated 200,000 children under the age of fifteen visit emergency rooms for playground injuries every year. The most common reasons for the high number of playground-related injuries are improper maintenance, faulty equipment, and lack of proper supervision. Depending on the individual circumstances of a particular case, fault may lie with either the property owner or the manufacturing company responsible for the design of the playground equipment.

Lack of Proper Playground Equipment Maintenance

Schools are responsible for keeping playground equipment properly maintained, conducting regular safety inspections, and staying in compliance with regulations. With consistent daily use, school equipment in particular is highly susceptible to wear and tear. Rust from exposure to the elements can cause screws and bolts to loosen. Slowly rotting wooden floorboards on climbing equipment can break during use if not checked regularly. Nails and other sharp edges may begin to protrude over time, resulting in safety issues. Daily maintenance by staff should include assessing the safety of slippery surfaces and checking for potential hazards, including those mentioned above. If a child is injured because of any type of preventable hazard on school property, the school may be found negligent.

Dangerous Design and Construction of Playground Equipment

As with all types of product liability, one aspect of fault may lie with the design of the equipment. School districts generally hire a construction company to build playgrounds designed, or supervised by, a specific design company. If either party has overlooked safety issues that ultimately result in an injury, one or both parties may be held liable for damages. Examples of faulty design include a climbing structure without a regulated railing to prevent a child from falling and breaking a limb. Additionally, playgrounds should have specific surfaces with higher levels of shock absorption. If a child is hurt due to lower quality surfaces, there may be a case for product liability. The Consumer Products Safety Commission provides safe design standards for playground equipment.

Lack of Proper Playground Supervision

Proper supervision is vital to playground safety. Children are constantly testing their own physical boundaries as they grow. School staff are legally required to possess knowledge of age appropriate motor skills, and to provide consistent supervision of children under their care. If staff do not provide proper supervision, they may be deemed negligent if a child is injured. Proper supervision is dependent on:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s level of experience
  • Specific activities at the time of injury
  • Any factors outside of the supervisor’s control

Playground Owner Liability: Who Owns the Playground?

The “owner” of the playground largely depends on where the playground is located. Public school districts are responsible for ownership and maintenance of playgrounds at schools. Ownership of playgrounds in private schools may vary. Some private schools rent their property from churches or non-profit groups. Local municipalities or counties are usually the  legally responsible party for playgrounds in local parks, and playgrounds in national parks are generally the responsibility of the federal government.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Personal Injury Law Firm

If your child has been injured as a result of playground negligence, Altman & Altman, LLP can assess your situation and help determine the best strategy for moving forward. Our personal injury attorneys have extensive experience with premises liability and product liability, and we will position you for the best possible outcome. Our firm has served Massachusetts for nearly 50 years, with offices in Boston, Cambridge, and Salem. Contact us today for a free consultation.