There is nothing like a water-slide or a swimming pool in the summer. As well, most of us cannot wait to be involved again in organized summer sports. Warm weather begs us to go outdoors and participate in numerous sporting and fun activities. For the most part, the things we participate in, the sporting activities, and the rides and attractions are safe, but things can go wrong. Sometimes, injuries occur.
Perhaps you caused your own injury. An injury happening during walk or a hike on your own through mother nature’s forests or mountains mostly will be considered to be an accident that no-one else caused.
On the other hand, in some situations, injuries happen because someone else did something wrong, did not do what they should have done, or because equipment failed that should have been checked before use. Owners and operators of the theme park, or the rides, or the water slides, or the day-or-sleep-away camp, or the river-rafting organizer, may well be held liable. Even schools can be responsible for injuries to student athletes under certain circumstances.
Owners and operators of summer attraction parks and amusements are responsible for operating safe rides and maintaining safe areas around the activity where people congregate. If a water slide or an amusement park ride is defective, or if those responsible for overseeing those activities are negligent, compensation for resulting injuries may be available. This responsibility for safety extends to the employees of the parks and rides.
Even homeowners can be responsible to their guests if an injury occurs in a backyard pool or water slide. These neighbors are responsible for maintaining a safe environment and they too must make sure their equipment is in good working order.
Summer camps where we send our children are most often wonderful experiences for them. To that end, the owners, directors, employees, and counselors have continuing obligations to make sure the little ones are safe.
Sports camps typically are fantastic summer getaways enjoyed by youngsters who get to hone their skills and be with their peers. If injuries happen because of over-reaching, neglect in supervision, equipment failure, or other failures, the sports camp people can be accountable.
The basis for legal responsibility is negligence. In simple terms, responsibility, or liability, has three component parts:
1. There must be a duty on the part of the park, organizer, or whomever, to the individual who suffered the injury. This duty would not apply, for example, to a trespasser who climbed a fence in the middle of the night to get to the swimming pool and who then ended up injured in the pool. The duty applies to the swimmers who are legally at the pool during its hours of operation.
2. Next, there must be a breach of the duty. Again, following the swimming pool example, if a child was injured because there was no lifeguard on duty, or because the child was running around and no guard attempted to stop that child (using the whistle and yelling “walk”), it can be said the pool, through the inaction of its employee failed in its duty to assure reasonable safety measures.
3. Finally, the failing (of the duty) must be the reason for the injury. If a guard is not watching or trying to stop children from running around the pool, and another child swings a bat and hits a running kid in the stomach, the failure of the guard is not the direct reason for the child’s stomach injury.
Here are some thoughts on protecting your children, and even yourself, when you wander out into the sun and fun of summer activities.
Check the accreditation of the camp or facility. The American Camp Association is the board for sleep-away and day camps across the country.
Ask if staff, counselors and others “in charge” know First Aid and CPR.
If your child suffers allergies, make sure camp or facility organizers know about these allergies, and assure they keep multiple doses of medications, and even EpiPens at the ready.
Often, particularly when it comes to children, organizers want you as the parent to sign a liability waiver of some sort that relieves them of responsibility. Sports waivers and countless schools require you sign them as a condition for your child’s participation. No waiver? Then no football, no softball, no tennis.
Know that these waivers are legally ineffective for the most part if the camp or facility was negligent. The waivers do not eliminate responsibility for safety measures, equipment condition and overall common sense.
Also know that some courts, when there is a waiver, have released owners, organizers and facilitators from responsibility in the absence of gross negligence. Gross negligence is tantamount to doing nothing, or a failure to exercise any care at all. If a showing can be made that the camp group made an effort to protect and keep its participants safe, but unfortunately failed, the release can be a good defense to allow the group to avoid responsibility.
The last concern about summer fun, specifically for children, is the very scary thought, unfortunately appropriate in this type of discussion, that there may be sexual predators in places where we send our little ones. The issue is prevention, so that discussion about responsibility is not the issue, nor is criminal prosecution.
Talk to your children about the “bad” birds and bees. Tell them what is, and what is not acceptable touching.
Ask staff if they have been trained on spotting sex abuse and other forms of child abuse. Ask about records, suspected abuse, reporting policies, and when children might be left alone with an adult. If the answers do not feel right, move on to a different camp or sports organization.
Don’t forget the suntan lotion.