The plaintiff in a playground injury case will not automatically establish a school’s liability by proving that an unsafe condition or practice existed on the playground. If the school’s conduct did not cause the injury, it cannot be held liable even if a serious defect exists. For example: A child falls from a slide ladder and sustains an injury. The fact that the slide had a dangerous strangulation hazard at the top of the slide is immaterial to the cause of injury.”
It may be that the actual cause of injury is another child on the playground. If an action taken by another child caused the injury and the action was sudden or otherwise unforeseeable, the school may be relieved of liability. To continue the example in the previous paragraph, suppose the child fell off the ladder because another child bumped into him. Both intended and unintended physical contact are foreseeable during active, enthusiastic play; however, supervisors are not expected to prevent all contact, but rather to supervise the activity to maintain a reasonably safe environment.”
The actual cause of a child’s injury may be the child’s or parent’s conduct. While most states prohibit apportioning a share of liability to toddlers and preschoolers, on some rare occasions courts have found that a child as young as seven could reasonably have seen and appreciated a hazard and voluntarily assumed all or part of the risk. Or courts may find that the child’s or parent’s negligence contributed to the injury, and the judgment should be reduced accordingly. In one such case, an 11-year-old’s decision to jump from the monkey bars to the slide was held to be the proximate cause of his injuries rather than the playground layout and maintenance of the equipment.
It is generally up to the judge or jury to determine the ultimate cause of loss and whether supervision was inadequate. in doing so, they will consider the school’s control over the environment, the child’s previous behavior and ability to perceive the danger, the number and location of supervisors, and how much time the supervisor had to prevent the injury. For instance, the judge or jury will consider whether the number of children using a slide at the same time or the failure to discipline a child misbehaving on the playground indicates supervisory neglect.