This case account was prepared by Tom Bowler, an experienced expert witness In the area of playground safety.
The mother took her four-years-old son visit a children’s museum. In the basement of the museum, one room had a theme of “sea caves”. The walls, benches and play equipment were painted with a theme of underwater sea caverns. This created a figure/ground type of problem for visually seeing and distinguishing protruding benches etc. The flooring was carpeted. Basically, the museum operated on the tenet of being a “hands on” type of experience for children.
The museum also boasted the fact that it was a “child-friendly public space” and that it was “a safe and enriched educational environment”. The museum had signage instructing children remove their shoes while playing within this environment. However, no mention was made of a “no running” rule. The young male while running with a young girl tripped and hit his head on an unpadded bench, thus causing a severe laceration.
During discovery, the thematic room was inspected and several photographs and measurements were taken. The mother indicated exactly where she was seated and the location of the bench, which her son struck after tripping on the carpeting. The mother’s deposition was taken and then had a continuance to another day. The executive director’s deposition was taken in two parts. The plaintiff’s expert witness deposition was never taken.
This personal injury case, like most of personal injury cases, did not go to trial. The case settled out of court. The courts are constantly backed up with scores of litigation matters on their dockets. In fact, today mediation and arbitration processes are taking a bigger role and becoming more prevalent. This helps reduce the tremendous overload on the courts by reducing the number of cases that must go to trial.
The expert’s testimony would have reflected the following thoughts. The protruding unforgiving bench in an activity room is a clear and present danger to participants. It was interesting to note some areas of the play area were padded. Therefore, the museum recognized the dangers within this thematic room. Certainly, an axiom of safety would be to have children in the proper footwear, when playing. Playing in stocking feet is never safe from the standpoint of slip/trip/and fall accidents. Lastly, the museum had a policy that they did not administer first aid. The parent had to administer first aid. From the perspective of an expert, this did not exacerbate the injury in any way. However, from a protocol standpoint, this is most unusual. The museum catered to children, therefore first aid should be a high priority.
Tom Bowler is a certified playground safety inspector doing business as Total Playground Consulting Services located in Merritt Island, Florida and Manchester, Connecticut. Tom consults with plaintiff attorneys, as well as defendant attorneys throughout the United States. He has consulted on approximately 285 cases in the last 18 years. He also consults on physical education, athletic and recreation cases. His role as an expert witness is to assist the attorney in interpreting the discovery evidence and applying his knowledge of playground safety to each individual situation. It should be noted each case is “case specific” and no two cases are alike.
As an expert witness, one has to analyze the fact pattern of each case. When the case goes to trial, the expert witness’ role is one of an educator. The jurors really do not know the expertise of each specialty area, therefore the