Who Is Liable If Your Child Is Injured at Summer Camp?
Parents do not expect the summer at camp to end with a serious injury to their child, and the possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit, but unfortunately, these situations do occur. Kids anxiously wait for summer to arrive throughout the school year, dreaming of endless free time and being released from the strictures of home and school. Many children will enjoy this freedom at summer camp, which allows them to make new friends and try new activities not otherwise available during the year. While summer camp can provide children with lasting experiences, it also brings the real danger of injury. Parents send their children to these programs with the expectation that their children will be kept reasonably safe, but camp counselors are unable to supervise the children at all times, or may expose the children to unreasonably dangerous situations, such as open fires. Who is legally responsible in this situation if a child sustains an injury? Sending one’s child to camp requires ceding authority to another adult, but parents are also typically required to sign liability waivers as a condition of enrolling their child in the program. Does this waiver preclude taking legal action for an injury? A discussion of the legal responsibilities of summer camps to keep children safe, and whether a liability waiver is an absolute bar to filing a lawsuit, will follow below.
As a general rule, any property owner who allows members of the public to enter his/her premises is obligated to keep the grounds reasonably safe to minimize injury. The only exception to this duty applies to trespassers. In the context of summer camp, this requires camp operators and their employees to regularly inspect the premises for hazards that could harm someone, and upon discovery of a potentially dangerous condition, take measures within a reasonable to time to correct the problem. Also, once a dangerous condition is known, but before there is a chance to fix it, camp attendees must be warned about the danger so it may be avoided. How regular the inspections must be will likely depend on how often the property is used by others and the type of use that occurs. When it comes to summer camps specifically, those in charge of operating the program would be responsible for inspecting both the physical grounds and any equipment used by the children. Additionally, the camp would need to have adults present during any activity that poses a risk to the child, such as posting a lifeguard at a pool/lake, accompanying children on hikes/walks, or supervising activities that involve the use of tools. Further, because children lack the capacity to fully appreciate danger, the camp must ensure no dangerous condition exists that would attract a child’s attention, such as an open swimming hole. Failure to properly supervise campers or maintain the premises could expose the camp to liability for negligence if a child is hurt.
A liability waiver is an agreement routinely included with documents a parent must sign to enroll his/her child in camp. The purpose of this waiver is to exclude the camp from legal responsibility if the child is hurt while participating in certain activities. Parents should always read all documents before signing, but signing the waiver does not automatically bar a parent from pursuing legal action. Courts generally view liability waivers as against public policy because it relieves one party of any responsibility to exercise due care, and shifts the responsibility to avoid injury to the person least able to prevent it. Thus, these waivers are heavily scrutinized for fairness, and if there is any evidence of reckless behavior, a court is more likely to find the waiver unenforceable.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Seeing a child hurt is a parent’s worst fear, and this fear is compounded when someone was supposed to be there to prevent it. If your child sustained an injury while in the care of someone else, talk to a personal injury attorney about your legal options. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understands how overwhelming a serious injury can be, especially if it involves your child, and fights to get their clients the compensation they deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.