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Appellate Court Decides The Chicago Park District May Be Held Responsible For A Child's Playground Injury

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A child should not be required to look up local playground ordinances before he or she is allowed to play on a slide. But in a recent personal injury case, the Chicago Park District (CPD) attempted to hold a child responsible for knowing about playground ordinances simply because they are “on the books.€ Fortunately, an appellate court recognized several problems with this argument. If your child has been injured on equipment at a city-run playground or a privately owned play facility, you should discuss your case with a Chicago personal injury attorney.

Thirteen-year-old Cheneka was playing with friends at a playground maintained by the Chicago Park District. While playing tag, Cheneka decided to climb a slide and slide down. The slide was curved, and the bottom of the slide wasn't visible to children sitting at the top. This is critical because there was a hole at the bottom of the poorly maintained slide. As she slid down, Cheneka was afflicted with terrible pain as her foot was caught in the hole. Cheneka fractured her ankle, requiring surgery to correct the damage.

Cheneka's mother sued CPD on behalf of her daughter and herself. She claimed that CPD was negligent in its maintenance of the slide, and that this negligence was “willful and wanton” because it had failed to fix the slide despite several complaints over the past year. When a defendant engages in willful and wanton conduct, it can be liable for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages, such as medical bills and pain and suffering.

CPD defended its maintenance record by arguing that Cheneka was 13 years old, so she was too old to use the slide. According to CPD, the slide had been designed for children 12 and under. CPD also pointed to a local ordinance that places age restrictions on some unspecified types of park equipment. CPD argued it were not responsible for Cheneka's injury because she had violated that ordinance.

Based on these arguments, the trial court granted CPD's motion for summary judgment and threw the case out. Cheneka’s mother appealed the decision to the Appellate Court of Illinois for the First Judicial District. The appellate court heard the arguments de novo. This means the appellate court allowed both sides to re-argue the facts that had already been presented to the trial court.

Several people had previously testified that CPD knew of the repair problem. One park maintenance official had personally seen the damaged slide and tried several times to put “caution tape” around it, but the next day the tape would vanish. An attempt was made to board up the top of the slide, but the board was quickly removed. Still, there was no repair work done to fix the underlying problem with the slide. The removal of caution tape and the board seems to indicate that children were still using the damaged slide. Because of this, CPD's conduct might be deemed “willful and wanton.” However, the appellate court focused on the motion for summary judgment that had originally thrown the case out.

The park had stated that there was a sign posted indicating that the slide was only for children “12 and under,€ but later it was revealed that the sign was probably put up after the accident had occurred. This left CPD to argue that a 13-year-old child is “on notice” of city park ordinances, simply because the ordinances are published somewhere and available for public view. This argument has been successful in the past but only when applied to adults. The appellate court noted that there isn't a single case where a child has been held responsible for knowing about local ordinances.

Based on these facts, the appellate court overturned the trial court's decision, sending the case back for trial. The appellate court further instructed the trial court to evaluate the possibility of willful and wanton conduct on the part of CPD. If the trial court finds that CPD’s conduct was willful and wanton, Cheneka and her mother may collect punitive damages in addition to money for her medical bills and pain and suffering.

When your child is injured at a playground, you need to talk to an attorney who can help explain your rights. These claims require a thorough understanding of personal injury law. When you've been injured, contact Cavanagh Law Group.

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