With vaccination rates on the rise, and cases of coronavirus on the decline, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently announced that playgrounds throughout the Garden State will reopen beginning July 2. But there is still reason to be cautious. For municipalities, that means collaborating with local health officials to make the necessary adjustments to meet COVID health safety measures — in addition to the usual playground safety standards.
Well-maintained playgrounds are not only in the best interests of children and their families, they’re in the best interests of the playground’s property owners and can go a long way in helping to reduce exposure to personal injury lawsuits.
A question of negligence
New Jersey municipalities have a duty to ensure people are not exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm on their properties If they breach this duty, they could be charged with negligence. Indeed, negligence is at the core of many cases that make their way to court, and is the most common form of tort action. The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, who needs to show that: the conduct of the municipality fell below the standard of care and that injuries sustained were a direct result of that breach in the standard of care.
Manage risk through due diligence
The most effective way for municipalities to reduce liability is to ensure they comply with prescribed safety standards and have appropriate procedures in place to show reasonable actions were taken. For example:
- Do regular, thorough, inspections of playground equipment and document the scope of those inspections.
- Conduct timely repairs and maintenance.
- Have policies and procedures in place, which are strictly adhered to.
- Have employees regularly participate in training and updates.
- Document all inspections, repairs and maintenance.
Public playground safety checklist
- Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials
- Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends, from back to front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.
- Check for dangerous hardware, such as open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends.
- Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
- Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
- Look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.
- Make sure elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
Source: U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission
Weiner Law Group: Defending your interests and your reputation
The attorneys at Weiner Law Group understand the many liabilities municipalities face when it comes to public property, such as playgrounds. Fighting and pursuing lawsuits can be financially draining and cause undue damage to your reputation. To protect your municipality, or if you are in need of counsel, call Weiner Law Group. We have a proven track record for successfully advocating for New Jersey’s public entities. Contact us or call 866-899-1138 for the expert legal counsel you require.