Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger are treated in emergency departments for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 20,000 of the injured children are treated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Between 2001 and 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated 40 deaths associated with playground equipment. Twenty-seven children (68%) died from strangulation and six (15%) died from falls to the playground surface.
Playgrounds today are safer than they were two decades ago – public playgrounds must comply with industry standards – but there are no federal playground safety regulations. Playgrounds that are well maintained pose fewer risks to children such as rusty or broken equipment, but research shows that playgrounds in lower income neighborhoods are more likely to be unsafe or poorly maintained.
In addition to health consequences for the child, playground-related injuries have a serious economic impact: the costs for playground injuries to children under 15 cost about $1.2 billion annually.
Children ages 5 to 9 have higher rates of emergency room visits for playground injuries than any other age group. Boys are more likely than girls to suffer a playground-related traumatic brain injury. The experienced injury attorneys at Parker Waichman can answer a family’s questions about filing a playground-injury lawsuit.
Traumatic Brain Injury in Children
The most serious playground injuries are traumatic brain injuries, where a blow to the head, such as from a fall from playground equipment or being struck by equipment, causes brain dysfunction.
Symptoms of brain injury in a child are similar to the symptoms experienced by adults. Physical symptoms can include speech, vision, and hearing impairments, headaches, seizures, paralysis, and balance and coordination problems. Cognitive symptoms can include memory and perception problems, limited attention span, reading and writing difficulties, and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty controlling emotions. Some children who suffer a traumatic brain injury require lifelong care and can never live on their own.
The Brain Injury Association of America explains that a child’s brain, which is still developing, is different from an adult’s brain. Experts once assumed that a child would recover better from a brain injury than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain. More recent research, however, has shown that a brain injury may actually have a more devastating impact on a child than a similar injury has on an adult. Cognitive impairments may not be immediately obvious in a child, but they may become apparent as the child gets older and faces higher expectations for new learning and more complex, social behavior. The effects of a brain injury can create lifetime challenges for the child and can have lasting consequences for the child and the family. Children with TBIs can face lifelong physical challenges, but for many, the greatest challenges are changes in the ability to think and learn and to develop socially appropriate behaviors.
Common deficits after a brain injury include difficulty in processing information, and impaired judgment and reasoning. When an adult is injured, these deficits can become apparent in the months following the injury. For a child, it may be years before the deficits from the injury become apparent.
When a child with a traumatic brain injury returns to school, the child’s educational and emotional needs are often very different than they were before the injury. The child’s family, friends and teachers may have difficulty adjusting their expectations to the child’s new situation. The Brain Injury Association says it important to plan carefully for the child’s return to school. The child may need special education services. The school will need to evaluate the child thoroughly and then develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that addresses those educational needs.
While many playground injuries result in cuts, scrapes, bruises and minor injuries, approximately 45 percent of playground injuries are considered to be serious. Serious injuries include:
- brain injuries
- broken bones
- internal injuries
Nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls. Swings, slides, overhead ladders and climbing equipment most often involved in injuries, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has developed a list of playground hazards that parents, school personnel, and other caregivers should watch for when with children on a playground.
- The protective surface beneath the playground equipment should be made of wood chips, mulch, wood fibers, sand, pea gravel, shredded tires or rubber mats and should be at least 12 inches deep.
- The area under and around play equipment where a child might fall should be a minimum of 6 feet in all directions.
- Adults should check for protruding hardware that could impale or cut a child (bolts, hooks, rungs), or catch items of clothing. Children should never wear drawstring hoodies at the playground; the drawstring can catch on the equipment.
- Openings in equipment should be large enough that they cannot trap a child’s head. No opening should measure between 3 ½ and 9 inches.
- Swings should be set far enough apart from other equipment that children will not be hit by a moving swing.
- Parents and caregivers should watch for tripping hazards like rocks or tree stumps or roots.
- Children under four should not be allowed to play on climbing equipment or horizontal ladders. Spring-loaded seesaws are best for young children. Adjustable seesaws with chains can crush children’s hands. “Whirls” or “roundabouts” are best for school-age children.
- Equipment should be properly maintained and should not be rusty or have sharp edges.
- Platforms should have guardrails.
Experts say monkey bars cause so many injuries that they are too dangerous for playground use and should be removed from all playgrounds.
Legal Help after a Playground Injury
If your child has been injured on the playground, the experienced injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can provide a free, no obligation evaluation of your case. To reach the firm, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).