How to reduce playground liability.

 I received this letter last week and felt it has a lot of good information that many educators are asking about.

I am writing to ask about an opinion expressed in an article on the website.  The article,  Playground Liability: Accident or Injury states On average, 17 children die each year playing on playgrounds.

It contains some good advice about supervision, but I would like to know what information, presented in the article, was used to make the summary conclusions?  The closing paragraph states that "This case points out the importance of establishing rules for proactive supervision, safe play and intervening to stop or prevent unsafe play. 

However, the court's decision makes it clear that "Accordingly, the State Supreme Court reiterated its determination that running at school generally does not pose an unreasonable risk of injury."

So, if running is not unsafe, then why does his case point out the need for supervision and intervention?  If anything, in my mind, this case shows that kids get knocked around sometimes when they play and it seems that the playground supervisors had the activity well in control.  Please let me know if I am missing something or misunderstanding the point you were bring to make.

Thank you,
Shannon MIKO

LINK to Article : Accident or Injury?

Melinda's Answer:


Thank you for writing for clarification.  I appreciate that you took the time to write.  It’s always nice to know that people are reading my articles with interest! :)

I’m writing for school principals in an article such as this.  (I’m a retired principal) who’s job it was to keep kids safe.  It is a newsletter article that’s posted to the website.  About 50% of my readers are principals.

I’m also an expert witness in cases involving injuries and supervision on school grounds.  I got two calls this week alone to provide expert testimony on cases in which children were injured on playgrounds and supervision was a contributing factor.

While as you put it “kids get knocked around sometimes” the reality is they don’t usually get “knocked around unless supervision is a problem”. If you read the article an “accident" is unavoidable and nothing could have prevented it.  You might think of it as instantaneous or something that prior planning could not have prevented.

“An injury" on the other hand is avoidable.  That is the real criteria in a lawsuit.  When you say, knocked around, that indicates it was not instantaneous, or it didn't happen in an instant but went on for some time.  You might think of it as a fight that wasn’t interrupted by a supervisor.  However, if there was a fight where a kid punched another student and the supervisor intervened on the spot after the one punch then that would (most likely) be determined as adequate supervision because the supervisor intervened on the spot.  However that is why there are lawsuits for the courts to determine and look at all the contributing facts in the case.

So it isn’t as black and white as one might think.  A lawsuit costs a school district (when it goes to court) for example,  a couple hundred thousand dollars.  Whether they were in the right or in the wrong.  So schools make every effort to keep kids as safe as possible with out interfering with safe play. That’s the issue that schools struggle with each day.  In this situation described in the article, the school district paid the costs of three lawsuits because there were three trials.  Or the district  insurance premiums will go up costing the district more money that could be going to kids, supplies, and things need to educate kids.

DIRECT QUOTE FROM ARTICLE:  The ambiguity in the requirements around duty of care in supervision illustrates certain issues about keeping children safe on the playground. Diligent and proactive supervision on the part of the playground supervisors may not always prevent every injury from happening, but it likely will contribute to reducing the numbers of injuries and also reduce potential liability.
In conclusion, “knocked around” is not instantaneous and this case points out the need for supervision and intervention is necessary to avoid lawsuits.  This illustrates that even if you are right and win the case,  it still costs the public taxpayer and schools a lot of money that could be better spent for educating students.

Best of luck and a sincere thank you for your service to our country!