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Montana Supreme Court to Hear Playground Accident Lawsuit Over 8-Year-Old's Head Injury

The Montana Supreme Court says that the mother of an 8-year-old daughter who sustained a severe head injury when she fell off a slide in 2002 is entitled to make her playground accident case, which contends that the city of Miles City should be liable for what happened. The court’s decision overturns a lower judge’s decision to dismiss the injuries to a minor lawsuit.

The playground slide accident occurred in Riverside Park, which the city owns and operates. According to the Independent Record, Miles City also designed, installed, and maintained the playground equipment there. The girl’s mother, Tiffany Gatlin, claims that the city, despite reviewing its playground maintenance and safety, working with a risk specialist that recommended there be proper “fall zones” and surfacing beneath the equipment, and adopting “current safety standards” for playgrounds six months before the playground fall accident, still did not make sure there was a safe enough depth of material to absorb the impact of a playground fall accident like the one that her daughter had.

Under the Public Duty Doctrine, an individual is not allowed to recover a claim unless he/she has a special relationship with that particular public entity. Even though district judge tossed out Gatlin’s Montana playground accident case, contending that the city owed the general public the duty of maintaining a safe playground area and not, specifically, Gatlin’s daughter, the Montana Supreme Court disagreed, finding that this doctrine doesn’t apply in every case.

According to the state’s highest court, the girl’s injury was foreseeable because kids have been known to fall from playground equipment, and, therefore, the city would (should) have seen that if the fall zones weren’t properly maintained there might be serious injury risks. Also, in taking on fall-zone safety standards, said the court, Miles City took on the responsibility of meeting those standards.

If your son or daughter was injured in a playground accident, you may have grounds for a civil lawsuit against the property owner, the playground designer, the manufacturer of a dangerous/defective piece of playground equipment, or some other liable party. Even though these days playgrounds are generally safer than the ones made during years past, serious injury accidents can and do happen.

For example, Kansas, a local school district has just settled playground accident claims involving three families whose children got hurt on the same set of monkey bars. Each kid broke a wrist on the same day. The monkey bars were new to the playground and they had just been installed. According to one mother, the equipment lacked steps for kids to safely get on and off.

Common causes of playground accidents:

  • Poor/inadequate playground surfaces. Concrete, wood chips, and hard-packed dirt that don’t provide much protection. Interlocking rubber mats that need to be thick enough.
  • Poor use zones, including not enough space between equipment.
  • Entrapment openings. Some playground equipment may have holes that kids can crawl through. Unfortunately, they aren’t big enough a child’s body or head may get entrapped.
  • Inadequate supervision.
  • Sharp edges, protrusions, or entanglement hazards sticking out of equipment.
  • A poorly designed playground area.

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