Four-Year-Old Girl Burns Feet in City Park With Improper Matting So City Sues Her Parents

90px-Minsk-2004-playground100px-Seal_of_the_City_of_New_York.svgIsabella Kern, 4, was playing in the sprinkler in a playground in Queens when she ran barefooted on to the black rubber matting. She almost immediately suffered severe burns that required a week in the hospital. Her family’s lawsuit against the city should be an obvious matter of negligence — it is obviously foreseeable for kids will run from the sprinkler area on to the matting. However, the city is now suing the parents and alleging that they were negligent.

It would seem obvious that you should not have black matting that can burn feet of children during the summer. These mats can reach 160 degree temperatures — more than enough to cause serious burns upon contact.

Rather than settle a lawsuit with the family and hang their heads in shame over their negligence with children, the city attorney has filed a suit against the victims — alleging that signs warned parents not to have children run barefooted on the mats. The parents insist that the signs were not added until after the accident.

The warning signs are obviously intended to create a basis for the city to allege assumption of the risk and/or contributory negligence. Given the fact that children are running in a sprinkler near by, I fail to see the sign as a complete defense — even if it were posted at the time of the accident. It is obviously foreseeable that children will take off their shoes and run to the mats. The decision to use this material was an act of gross negligence and the decision to sue this family is one of the most shameful acts that I have seen in years from municipal attorneys. Such counter lawsuits are often viewed as a way to force settlements. Whoever approved this lawsuit is, in my view, a legal menace who is serving neither the city nor the public in such abusive lawsuits.

There have long been complaints about New York playgrounds using the material, here. There have been other cases around the country (here) that should put park officials on notice that these mats are unacceptable for playgrounds. Past cases include:

* Emma Regjaj (23 months) with severe burns from mats at St. Catherine’s Park in Manhattan in 2008;

* Parker Wands (16 months) with second degree burns on mats at Ditmars Park in Queens in 2008;

* Kian Mehran-Lodge (14 months) with second degree burns at Van Voorhees Playground in Brooklyn in 2004; and

* Ryan Mazzola (18 months) with first and second degree burns at Midland Beach Playground in Staten Island in 2003.

Playground equipment can also reach unacceptably high temperatures. If the city is not going to replace such equipment with cooler materials, it needs to put screen over the playground area to diffuse direct sunlight on the mats and equipment.

At the present time, the city maintains such dangerous conditions that a small girl was in the hospital for five days and couldn’t walk for nine days.

Yet, the city blames Isabella’s grandmother.

For the full story, click here.

10 thoughts on “Four-Year-Old Girl Burns Feet in City Park With Improper Matting So City Sues Her Parents”

  1. As an attorney, I would be salivating to be the plaintiffs’ attorney. I would do nothing to prevent the city from putting on its defense. It’s these sort of cases that create exemplary damages where, without the defense, they would be hard to win.

    The very fact that the city will appear, to the jury, to be willing to continue the same behavior, especially in light of the previous complaints and injuries, might very well cause the jury to reason: “We must award exemplary damages so that the city will sit up and notice that the cost of not changing its behavior has become too expensive.” And little kids make very appealing victims.

  2. it disgusts me that such a counter-suit could even be conceivable in someone’s deranged mind. i think the parents should be able to “double sue” both the city and the city’s defense council! absolutely ludacris and SHAMEFUL!

    and what is up with still using this material after years of cases of children being burned and maimed? i remember having dirt, concrete, asphault, sand, clay and broken tire bits as cushion. i grew up in central FL where it is hot as the dickens and i never ONCE burned my feet nor had to worry about it. even on new pavement!

    ok, enough. i am just going to keep ranting and raving because it angers me greatly that little children are being victimized by adult stupidty, negligence and (possibly) greed. ugh!

  3. If this has been a known problem from 2003 then I’d be looking into how many degrees of separation there are between the suppliers/vendors etc. of the material and the bureaucrats authorizing the materials use. If it doesn’t make sense to be doing something it probably means there’s money involved for the people on both ends of the transaction that are doing it. Just sayn’.

  4. As a kid who grew up, at least until 12 in NYC playgrounds, I find the use of these mats by the NYC Parks Dep.unconscionable. Back in my day there was cement and a fall from a Jungle Jim or Slide could be scrape time at the very least and severe break time more than infrequently. The mats obviously were put in to protect against this. However, I can’t believe there isn’t some other protective material that would work as well, without the severe temperature rise. Seemingly a no brainer, especially with the NYC Parks Dept., but then Mike Bloomberg’s kids never played in NYC playgrounds and NYC’s billionaire Mayor is only marginally better than the awful Guilliani, in that he is less obviously all about the elite.

  5. One of the problems for the city in pursuing this is that wearing shoes will not protect children from being burned by the mats. The nature of playgrounds, and the point of the mats, is that children fall and their skin will inevitably come into contact with whatever is covering the ground. I don’t see a jury finding a parent negligent for not encasing a chld is heat resistent apparel from head to to while playing at a neighborhood park.

  6. Damn! You can’t even take your kids to the park these days. The city lawsuit is shameful. What an arrogant response.

  7. Given that the Cities of NY have been on notice for at least three years, I calculate negligence at 100%. If accurate, the attempted sign fraud post occurrence ie interfering with defense against indemnification might just be a good enough reason to deny CGL insurance coverage, altogether.

    Good luck with that, Queens. Give that menace you call a lawyer the old heaveho and start over with the family!

    These city playgrounds aren’t for child’s play.

    Black rubber mats designed to break a child’s fall turn blistering hot in the summer, soaring to higher than 165 degrees, a Daily News investigation found.

    Doctors at two city hospital burn units reported seeing 16 to 18 young children with playground burns a year, mostly from the mats under junglegyms and sliding boards.

    “I have nightmares,” said Anne Casson, whose toddler son, Will, ditched his shoes at Carl Schurz Park on the upper East Side one day last May.

    “He stepped onto the black mats and was screaming hysterically,” Casson said. “When I picked him up, the skin was just hanging off his feet.”

    The baby spent four days in New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell, where doctors administered morphine for intense pain.

    The News, accompanied by NYC Park Advocates, took the temperature of mats under junglegyms at playgrounds in all five boroughs last Friday.

    “It is unconscionable that the city continues to install products in playgrounds that hurt the most vulnerable park users – small children,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, who took a 166.9-degree reading on the mats at Carl Schurz. “How many more have to get hurt until someone is held accountable?”

    The News requested recent statistics on the number of burns at the 1,000 city playgrounds, but Parks Department spokeswoman Jama Adams said there were “no incidents reported.”

    The Cassons sent a letter to city officials with a graphic photo of their son’s injuries.

    Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said signs were posted in playgrounds warning against going barefoot.

    “We’re not going to remove [the mats],” Benepe told The News. “Our playgrounds are the safest in the world.”

    Reyhan Mehran, a marine scientist from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, said her son Kian Mehran-Lodge was 14 months old in July 2004 when he was burned at Van Voorhees Park.

    “We cannot understand why the city wouldn’t immediately remove material that is known to severely burn children,” she said.

    Doctors said the highest temperatures measured on the mats could cause burns in less than a second.

    At 140 degrees, it “takes about three seconds,” said Dr. Palmer Bessey, of New York-Presbyterian’s burn center, which treated two playground burns within the last two weeks and treats six to eight each year.

    A recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission handbook recommended lighter colors for playground surfacing.

  8. Gotta fund those favorite charities, now don’t we. Did the city also call CPS on the parents? Get them involved that will teach them.

    Did you say Queens? Ah yes, that splains it all Ricky.

  9. Given the city’s knowledge of the unreasonable risk of injury posed by these mats, I would feel very comfortable asking a jury to find that the city acted with gross indifference to the safety of patrons. The closing argument in this case almost writes itself.

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