Who Can Be Held Liable for Summer Camp Injuries?
Assessing Risk Factors and Liability at Summer Camp
Summer camp is characterized by its spirit of adventure and risk-taking, and the courts have recognized this fact in many cases. In one 2012 example, an Ohio appeals court found that a camp leader had not been negligent when a child was accidentally injured during a night hike (Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ.) The court based its decision on the doctrine of “primary assumption of risk,” meaning certain recreational activities – like a night hike – are considered inherently dangerous, due to the possibilities of slipping and falling on a dimly lit trail.
Despite the inherent risks of camping, there are plenty of scenarios where campground staff can be held liable for their negligence. If you can prove that a camp leader was abusive to your child or reckless in leading a group activity, you will have legal grounds to sue. Additionally, under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, campgrounds that host children overnight have to ensure that the premises are well-maintained. If your child was injured in a poorly maintained cabin or subjected to unnecessary risk factors in a camp-owned facility, that too may warrant a personal injury suit.
Below are some common summer camp injuries and their risk factors:
- Swimming & drowning injuries: Whether your child is swimming in a pool or a body of water like a lake, the camp is responsible for ensuring that these activities are supervised by an adult at all times. The CDC notes that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death world-wide, so campground staff must be vigilant in protecting their charges.
- Heat stroke: Children playing in the sun may not be aware of the risk of heat stroke. If the camp staff has not appropriately explained the risk and taken reasonable measures to prevent heat stroke, your child may need costly emergency care.
- Severe sunburns: Camps should encourage kids to apply sunscreen frequently, and to wear sun-appropriate attire whenever they’re exposed to UV rays. Because minors do not fully understand the risks of sun exposure, failure to properly warn the campers could make the camp staff accountable for serious burns.
- Animal attacks and insect bites: With adult supervision and proper safety measures, the risk of a serious animal attack is unlikely. So, if your child was injured by a wild animal, it’s possible that camp security was too relaxed, or that camp staff did not properly communicate the dangers of leaving food out. Additionally, failure to immediately treat serious insect bites from poisonous bugs can cause lasting damage, especially to younger children.
What If I Signed a Liability Waiver?
When you enrolled your child for summer camp, you likely signed a liability waiver. These documents are designed to help camp facilities and other institutions avoid unnecessary lawsuits, and they can sometimes bar you from taking legal action. However, you may be surprised to learn that a waiver isn’t always binding. A waiver is only considered valid in court if it meets the following conditions:
- The injury resulted from known risks that were thoroughly covered in the waiver document.
- The waiver does not violate any laws.
- The language of the waiver was accurate.
In cases of gross negligence, the waiver document can be invalidated by failing to meet one of those three conditions. Reading the fine print carefully and understanding what constitutes “reasonable assessment of risk” for the summer camp will go a long way in strengthening your personal injury claim.