Summer Camp Injuries: Who is Responsible?

Saturday, July 22, 2017
Summer is here, and kids are celebrating the end of the school year and packing up for camp. New friends, outdoor activities, and time spent away from home to encourage independence are among the many benefits of a summer at camp. Nationwide, there are 7,000 overnight camps and about 5,000 day camps in the U.S., attended by some 11 million campers, according to the American Camp Association (ACA). As parents, you are trusting your children to the supervision of others when you send them off to camp. Hopefully, you’ve done your research and selected a camp with a great reputation and track record of many summers without incident. Nevertheless, accidents do happen at camp. Most are minor scrapes and cuts, but serious injuries and illnesses can occur. When they do, who is responsible? The Camp’s Duty of Care to its Campers In most cases, the camp has a duty to keep it’s campers reasonably safe, under the legal theory of premises liability. The camp’s grounds should be maintained free of hazards, and the activities should be age appropriate, not unduly dangerous, and well supervised. The camp owes a duty to its campers and their families to review its programs and facilities to minimize injury risks. When the owner, operator, or a staff member of the camp fails in its duty to create and maintain a safe environment, and a serious accident or injury occurs, a parent might successfully sue the camp for their child’s injuries. Types of Injuries and Illnesses that Occur at Camp
  • Communicable diseases: Kids sleep in fairly close quarters and as with any time youngsters come together in groups, germs get passed from one to another. Most common are respiratory infections and gastro-enteritis, “stomach flu.” Most of these are minor and pass within a few days. In the rare instance of a serious outbreak of a life-threatening disease, such as measles or meningitis, depending on the circumstances, the camp’s vaccination requirements, and how the first case was handled, it might be possible to prove negligence and hold the camp liable for the cost of medical care, pain and suffering, and any long-term damage to the child’s health.
  • Slip, trip, and fall accidents: If a child>slips or trips and falls because of some hazardous condition at the camp, the owners may be held liable for any injuries that occur, if it can be shown that they were negligent in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and that they caused or allowed a hazardous condition to exist, under the legal theory of premises liability. We highly recommend contacting a San Antonio slip and fall lawyer to see if you have a case and a right to compensation for your child’s injuries.
  • Injuries resulting from the failure to use appropriate protective equipment: Team sports, horseback riding, and cycling are among the camp activities that require protective gear. If the camp either does not provide the gear or does not enforce its use, they may be held liable for your child’s injuries.
  • Injuries resulting from lack of supervision: There’s no telling what kind of trouble kids can get into when left unsupervised. When you send your child to camp, you rely on the staff to provide appropriate supervision. It is the camp’s responsibility to provide it. The camp can be held liable for serious injuries or deaths (drowning, for example) brought about by lack of supervision of the campers.
  • Inherently dangerous camp activities: Horseback riding, football, capture the flag, wilderness hiking, and other activities common at camp come with inherent dangers for kids who participate. You will usually be required to sign a release of liability form. If the camp has provided adequate training, supervision, and protective gear, they will probably not be held liable for a child’s injury in an activity with inherent danger. However, if they were lax in any of the above, you might have a case.
  • Sexual or physical abuse of children due to failure of camp to screen staff: The camp is responsible for ensuring that the people they hire to supervise and guide the children are of good character. They should perform thorough background checks to determine if there any red flags that might indicate an applicant is not fit to be around children. Needless to say, a conviction for a violent crime, domestic abuse, or a sex offense should preclude hiring someone. If any sort of child physical or sexual abuse occurs at the hands of a staff member, the camp may be held liable for wrongful hiring and failure to properly investigate those who will care for the kids.
If Your Child’s Injury is More than a Minor One Children are prone to injuries, and some types of injuries will inevitably occur at camp. The good news is that most camps have on-site healthcare providers and adhere to national camp standards requiring the presence of a licensed healthcare provider present around the clock to deal with most common illnesses and injuries as they occur. Depending on the specific circumstances, the camp may or may not be held liable for serious injuries, depending on the specific situation in which the harm occurred. If your child suffered a serious injury or illness at a day or sleep-away camp that could have been prevented, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney to learn what legal options might be available.
Posted by at 8:49 pm

What is Wrongful Birth?

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Reproductive rights have become a contentious issue in the United States. Many believe it is and essential right a woman to determine when, under what circumstances, and how often she will give birth in her lifetime. There is a viewpoint promoted by some religious groups that every conception should be treated as a human life and carried to term. But others see this as a fundamental denial of the mother’s right to determine if and when she will give birth. The problem becomes an especially thorny one when the woman is carrying a child who will never be able to live a normal life and may be subjected to painful and expensive medical procedures and intense suffering. This situation forms the basis for two types of legal action in some common law legal systems, such as the United States, for “wrongful birth” and “wrongful life.” These two causes of action may arise when a doctor knows that a woman is likely to be carrying a child with a serious congenital defect and fails to inform the parents, resulting in the pregnancy being carried to term,  allowing the severely ill child to be born who requires expensive care to maintain a poor quality of life. It may involve:
  • The withholding of genetic information that would predict the likelihood of a congenital disease or abnormality
  • Failing to disclose the availability of genetic or prenatal screening procedure
  • Failing to inform a woman who was given a drug, or who became ill with a disease like rubella, that the fetus could have been affected
  • Failing to inform parents of an abnormality or high possibility of one, discovered during routine prenatal care
. . . any of which information could have led the parents either to avoid a pregnancy likely to produce a seriously ill or abnormal child altogether, or to terminate an existing pregnancy. In brief, a wrongful birth action is one brought by the parents against the doctor for withholding the information they needed to make a well-informed decision. A wrongful life action, in contrast, is brought by the child, through its parents or guardian, also against a medical professional or hospital, for withholding information, resulting in the child’s pain and suffering, which could have been prevented by the mother terminating the pregnancy or in some cases by avoiding becoming pregnant in the first place. It could also arise if a doctor negligently performed a sterilization procedure on a woman at risk for bearing a child with genetic abnormalities and a pregnancy and birth resulted from the doctor’s negligence. At issue are not the child’s disabilities, but the fact of the life itself. Only five U.S. states allow a civil action for wrongful life.

What Damages May Be Claimed in a Wrongful Birth Action?

These are the potential damages that parents may claim in a wrongful birth action:
  • The additional costs of raising a child with special needs, above and beyond those of raising a healthy child, such as medical care, special schooling, therapy, medical devices, and so forth;
  • Parent’s emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Pain and suffering of the mother during delivery of an abnormal or unhealthy baby

Complexity and Controversy

Wrongful birth and wrongful life cases are fraught with complexity and controversy. Proving causation can be tricky. While the doctor cannot be held responsible for actually causing the abnormality, it must be shown that the doctor was negligent in withholding information that would have allowed the parents to make an informed decision to prevent the birth of an unhealthy child. Opposing religious, philosophical, and political views regarding the sanctity of life and the beginning of legal personhood further complicate the matter and add a layer of controversy and emotionality that goes beyond the medical facts of the case. Parents contemplating this type of action need to ensure that they hire an experienced attorney without ambivalence about this type of case, who will provide the wholehearted commitment and compassion to help the plaintiffs weather what might be a wrenching emotional storm.
Posted by at 8:49 pm

What Does a School Liability Waiver Actually Do?

Thursday, July 6, 2017
If you are a parent of a school-age child, you probably sign many, many permission slips. If you don’t, your child will be left at school, sitting alone in a near-empty classroom, missing out on all the fun of a class field trip or other off-campus activity or unable to participate in an after-school sport program. A permission slip typically contains a waiver of liability; you agree not to hold the school responsible for any harm that might come to your child. But isn’t it the responsibility of the teacher or other supervising adult to take reasonable care to avoid a child coming to harm—regardless of where the class is? Signing permission slips has become so routine that parents may give little thought to them—until their child is injured. Then, they often assume that since they signed the liability waiver, their hands are tied, and they are unable to sue, even if a teacher or other member of the school staff was negligent. Simply requiring that parents sign these waivers serves as a deterrent to parents who might otherwise be inclined to initiate a lawsuit against a school district. You May Still Have Legal Recourse Having signed a waiver, however, does not automatically mean that you are without legal recourse if your child has been hurt. Why? Because state courts frequently will not uphold a waiver. Schools and their staff still have a legal responsibility to supervise their charges and keep them from harm, regardless of anything a parent may have signed. You have the right to sue for negligence by showing:
  • That school personnel had a duty to keep watch over your child
  • That they failed in this duty of care
  • That as a direct result of their failure to supervise, your child was injured
  • That your child and you suffered actual damages as a result.
Inherently Dangerous Activities The refusal of courts to uphold waivers typically does not extend to activities that come with inherent risk of injury, for example certain team sports or gymnastics (including cheerleading). While a sports waiver may preclude you from suing the school for an injury that occurred during the activity, and possibly may include claims of negligent supervision or transportation of your child to a sports event, it does not protect the school from liability for injuries arising from gross negligence on the part of the staff—that is when the injury was caused by failure to exercise any care whatsoever, or from a deliberate or reckless act on the part of the person in charge—an act that that person knew or should have known came with a high likelihood of causing harm. A possible example would be a football coach requiring a team to run for an hour in ninety-degree heat without a water break. Get a Qualified Legal Opinion If your child has been injured during a school-related activity, don’t let the fact that you signed that permission slip deter you from consulting an attorney. You may very well be able to recover monetary damages, regardless of the waiver. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you as to whether you and your child have a valid claim for damages, and how a court is likely to rule in a situation like the one you are dealing with. Your attorney will examine the circumstances surrounding the injury and counsel you as to what legal options might be available and how best to proceed.
Posted by at 5:56 pm

Have Distracted Driving Laws Reduced Crashes? 

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Distracted driving poses a serious threat to our health. According to government research on driver behavior, in 2014 nearly 3200 people were killed and an additional 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents in which distracted driving was a factor. Distracted driving is defined as any activity that can divert a person’s attention away from their primary task, which is driving. Examples of distracted driving include texting, talking on the phone, eating or drinking, applying makeup, reading maps, consulting a navigation system, even adjusting a radio. Since text messaging requires digital, cognitive, and visual input, it’s often seen as the biggest threat. And we text a lot – according to federal data, we sent nearly 170 billion texts in December 2014 alone. A lot of us text while driving – around 660,000 at any given time. To reduce the number of distracted driving related crashes, lawmakers have passed sweeping regulations to address texting on the road. Today, nearly every state in the union prohibits it. But are they doing any good? New York was the first to pass a handheld device provision in 2001. Not only are residents not allowed to text, but they’re not allowed to talk or use their devices (hands-free talking is allowed in some states). Currently, fourteen states have this provision, as well as the District of Columbia. Forty-four states prohibit texting while driving, but allow talking and use of a navigation system.

Texting-Related Bans Save Lives

A review of hospitalization data show that texting bans have led to a decrease in crash-related hospitalizations across all age groups, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health. On average, such hospitalizations have decreased by seven percent. The improvement was most drastic among crash victims aged 22 to 64. Crashes among adolescents and teens, on the other hand, dropped only marginally. Researchers in the study concluded that these reductions translate into annual prevention of 30 motor-vehicle hospitalizations per hospital (in states with a primary texting ban). This suggests that texting bans work and are improving public health.

Insurance Companies Tell a Different Story

Interestingly, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found conflicting information. While they found bans on hand-held phone use have curbed the behavior of texting behind the wheel, they haven’t produced a subsequent reduction in crashes. According to their analysis, cell phone and texting bans have not reduced the number of crashes reported to insurers, even with strong enforcement. The institute’s research found that in places with a handheld device ban, such as New York, cell phone conversations dropped by as much as 76 percent. They also found, however, that motor vehicle crash claims haven’t been significantly reduced in the years following the ban. There are several possible reasons for this – for example, drivers who were on their phones may have been distracted by something else. Another is that drivers may be switching to hands-free calling, which is legal but still provides a cognitive distraction. These drivers would still be distracted by the conversation, even when their hands are on the wheel.

What’s the Final Word on Texting Bans?

It’s important to note that one study analyzed insurance claim data, while the other analyzed hospitalization data. One possible explanation for the cell phone ban data discrepancy is that there are fewer serious crashes producing hospitalization although they may still result in an insurance claim. Distracted driving still poses a threat to our health. Each year, there are several hundred preventable deaths related to cell phone use. Lawmakers must continue to recognize the efficacy of texting bans in reducing serious injury and encourage states without texting bans to adopt legislation. Together, we can reduce the number of distracted driving deaths.
Posted by Aaron Herbert at 9:24 am