West Virginia School District Bans Playground Swings

This is a curious story. A West Virginia school district has dismantled all swing sets because of the danger of lawsuits. Cabell County cites a single such case that was settled.

Cabell County schools safety manager Tim Stewart says a lawsuit in the past year involved a child who broke his arm jumping off a swing like Superman. The District settled the action for $20,000.

The position of the district in my view is nonsensical. Monkey bars and other equipment will remain and could also be used as launch pads for Spidermen-wannabes. Moreover, such obvious and patent dangers are generally not the basis for liability so long as the equipment is not defective. One area of liability for playgrounds has been the lack of cushion on the ground such as wood chips or the use of particular rubber mats that heat up to a dangerous level. Just having a swing set is not a particularly strong torts case.

One of my sons broke his arm at his elementary school yard by falling off a piece of equipment. I never even contemplated a lawsuit. Such accidents happen to children everywhere. Most jurors would agreed with me.

There is always a risk of lawsuit when you are in the business of taking care of children. However, to start to remove basic elements like swings in fear of baseless lawsuits is a poor choice. If the district truly wants to eliminate all spontaneous Spidermen performances, it would have to remove a lot more than just swings. Of course, the best way to avoid lawsuits is to wrap the children in bubble wrap (with air holes of course) and allow them to play statues on a fully matted surface. However, that would defeat the idea of recess.

School districts have and should be sued for negligence in the supervision of children when the evidence warrants such a lawsuit. This availability of swings is simply not an act of negligence.

Previously, there was a controversy over the growing number of schools who have banned tag and other contact sports at recess. This has been done despite warning from experts that children need such activities for healthy growth and relations. In any of these cases, please do not blame the lawyers — at least not all lawyers. If the West Virginia lawyers settled a case for $20,000 for a kid who simply jumped off a swing, they need to reexamine their litigation policies — not playground equipment.

Jonathan Turley

Source: Star Tirbune

23 thoughts on “West Virginia School District Bans Playground Swings”

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  2. Perhaps every parent should be required to sign a waiver stating that if their child jumps off a moving swing that the school district is not liable. Of course this would also require constant adult supervision and probably a permanent video camera on the premises that could provide the necessary evidence if needed. All kidding aside, bring on tort reform!

  3. Pete.

    “here in fl they were building many kids playgrounds out of pressure treated lumber.”.

    I think that the timber is treated with copper chromate arsenate which gives it that green tinge, it is not cyanide. We used to treat playground equipment similarly in Australia but no longer. Also you cannot use it near places where you grow vegetables because the poison leaches into the ground and is then absorbed by the vegetables.

  4. Obviously all children should be put in straight jackets when in the morning they arrive at school and not have them removed until they are ready to leave at the end of the day. Of course that might limit their ability to learn but for Public schools anyway as they are only baby sitting services for the children of the non-elite until they are ready for prison.

  5. Several good common sense comments here. I agree with mespo’s point that it’s dangerous to try to analyze settlements in a vacuum. When I was a young lawyer, an old trial lawyer told me to remember that all settlements are essentially arbitrary. My experience bears him out.

    Second, the closing of playgrounds and removal of playground equipment is frequently blamed on lawsuits, but I have never seen any evidence that playground litigation is some sort of growth industry. And the constant condemnation of trial lawyers wholly misses two truths: (a.) Most lawyers won’t even consider taking a case lacking either a defensible argument on liability or significant damages because no one wants to work for free; and (b.) Judges are not reluctant to impose substantial penalties on lawyers and litigants who pursue claims which are legally frivolous.

    Third, as Daniel Baker observes, many playground injuries would likely never find their way into the court system under universal health care.

    I also believe that efforts to eliminate every conceivable risk of injury to a child is bad public policy. Kids need to learn about risks as part of the process of developing the ability to analyze situations and make responsible decisions. They also need to appreciate some of the consequences of bad decisions. I’m not suggesting recklessly exposing kids to dangerous conditions, but most of the lessons that have stuck with have been were accompanied frequently by discomfort and occasionally by pain.

    Finally, part of the fun of childhood is engaging in activities that have some risk attached to them.

  6. Take heart Bookworm, infancy usually tolls the statute of limitations thus allowing the injured child until his eighteenth birthday PLUS the statutory period to commence his suit.

  7. Professor Turley didn’t even contemplate a lawsuit when his kid broke his arm, and good for him. But Professor Turley most likely had the insurance or resources to pay for his kid’s treatment. Many people don’t, and when one of their kids breaks an arm, they may have a choice between financial disaster and suing somebody, anybody, who might be able to pay the medical bills. Universal health insurance may (I hope) do something to solve that issue.

  8. here in fl they were building many kids playgrounds out of pressure treated lumber. after 10 years or so someone realized the lumber is treated with cynide, down came the playgrounds and all the dirt around them. (sorry no link, too lazy).

    i’m with shirenomad on this one, sounds like maybe some spite or someone wants the playground property for something else.

  9. “What happened to the days when the kid who ate too many marbles didn’t get to grow up and have kids of his own?” – George Carlin

  10. I can imagine a cost-benefit analysis going into this. Chances of winning the sole case aside, it was likely cheaper to settle than to pay defense fees for a full case. And then even cheaper to remove the swings than to do either a second time. Schools aren’t exactly swimming in cash.

    (There may also have been some spite involved. School announcement: “Little Timmy thought our swings were dangerous so we had to take them away.”)

  11. When my son was a senior in high school, he went to school one day without his gym shoes. In gym class, the teacher sent him out on that highly polished gymnasium floor to play basketball in his stocking-feet. At a certain point, the ball got loose and there was a mad scramble for it, which resulted in a bit of a collision of teenage boys. One boy, my son, in his stocking feet on a polished floor, went down and broke both bones in his right arm. One bone came through and shattered. Naturally, surgery had to be performed to put the bones back together, and two years later, another surgery was done to remove all the steel in his arm. I was, as you might imagine, furious and had I been in charge I’d have visited a lawyer the day after the accident. However, the kid had passed his 18th birthday, making him an adult, and his decision was that the good will of the school meant more to him than the few paltry dollars that probably would have been awarded by the court.

    Obviously, my parenting skills were lacking.

  12. Anonymously Yours
    1, September 2, 2010 at 9:15 am

    FYI, I remember taking sticks and swinging at the swinger. My sister mostly, but hey…whats wrong with that anyways….and Yep…I got my butt spanked.


    So you two were the sneaky little creeps who messed up my pretend land!

    If there is any justice in this world, next time around you both will be born as girls with at least 4 older brothers!!

  13. mespo,

    FYI, I remember taking sticks and swinging at the swinger. My sister mostly, but hey…whats wrong with that anyways….and Yep…I got my butt spanked.

  14. This is just sad. Swings on the playground are also a great vehicle for escape into pretend land.

    The Swing

    How do you like to go up in a swing,
    Up in the air so blue?
    Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
    Ever a child can do!

    Up in the air and over the wall,
    Till I can see so wide,
    River and trees and cattle and all
    Over the countryside–

    Till I look down on the garden green,
    Down on the roof so brown–
    Up in the air I go flying again,
    Up in the air and down!

    Robert Louis Stevenson

  15. I agree with the professor and also agree with mespo, but for different reasons. Kids are going to be kids and if you want to eliminate any risks keep them at home. But you must also take away the computers and IPODS. They can lead to other abuses and lawsuits such as deafness and depraved ideals of logic and good. Might as well take away the skate boards while your at it. The playground at school is an assumption of risk, for the parents too.

    Mespo, if there is truly negligent supervision and they have notice then this may be a basis for a negligence suit. But then, we had teachers watching us, not the lunch lady aids, who do not have the familiarity of the interaction of the various students. So thing are different than we we were kids.

    I remember falling off of the monkey bars, hitting the ground and my fear was that “I was more afraid of what might happen at home than at school.” We did have a full time nurse.

  16. This is way off topic, but might be of interest to many of us. Sundance Channel is re-running “No End in Sight”, an outstanding 2007 documentary by filmmaker Charles Ferguson on the mistakes and failures of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. All times are Eastern. Sept.2/8:05 A.M. and 1:05 P.M. Also, Sept.7/11:00 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. A not so happy trip down memory lane.

  17. If the West Virginia lawyers settled a case for $20,000 for a kid who simply jumped off a swing, they need to reexamine their litigation policies — not playground equipment.


    I can imagine several scenarios where such a suit would be justified. Specifically, if a teacher refused to supervise children who were obviously engaged in what we once called “swing kamikaze.” During my care free days of youth, we would make sure that the arcs of the swings intersected so that we could try and knock the other child off his perch. Sometimes kids wanted to play and sometimes they didn’t. Reluctance to “engage” was never immunity from the game however.

    Over the years, I’ve learned to take with a boulder of salt any such explanations supposedly justifying silly decisions based on litigation “horror stories.” They are usually just “sour grape” decisions used to make a point and impugn those scourges of society – the trial lawyers. I suspect the trial lawyers making this claim would have a differing viewpoint based on all the facts–had anyone bothered to ask. I suppose no one likes social accountants keeping us all safe from harmful products and casual regard for the safety of others.

    I think commenting on other people’s settlements is a lot like commenting on others people’s marriages. You don’t truly know unless you live there.

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