Personal Injuries on Church Property and During Church Activities – Part 3

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that “industry standards” for safe playground equipment could be used by a parent to prove that her child’s school was negligent.

Church Law and Tax2003-11-01

Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities – Part 3

Key point 7-08. Most cities have enacted building codes that prescribe minimum standards in the construction of buildings. The courts have ruled that these laws may be applied to churches so long as they are reasonably related to the promotion of public health and safety.
Building Codes

* The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that “industry standards” for safe playground equipment could be used by a parent to prove that her child’s school was negligent in allowing children to use unsafe playground equipment. A 9-year-old girl was injured when she slipped and fell on a piece of playground equipment at the school she attended. The playground equipment was a metal “monkey bar” device which the children walked on; it extended above the ground approximately two feet. As a result of the fall, the girl broke her right leg. The growth plate in that leg was significantly damaged, and the child eventually underwent surgery in both legs to remove the growth plates. The child’s mother sued the school, claiming that it was negligent in allowing a piece of playground equipment that did not comply with “industry standards.” Specifically, the mother relied on the testimony of two “expert witnesses” who stated that the monkey bars failed to comply with guidelines for playground equipment adopted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). A trial court refused to allow these experts to testify about the CPSC and ASTM standards because there was no evidence that the school had ever adopted these standards. A state supreme court ruled that these standards could be used to determine whether or not the school was in compliance with “industry standards” concerning playground equipment, even though it had not adopted them. The court concluded, “The trial court was under the mistaken belief that the school must have adopted these national protocols before such evidence was admissible …. Such proof is not required when the evidence is offered to demonstrate an applicable standard of care.” The court concluded, “The general rule is that evidence of industry safety standards is relevant to establishing the standard of care in a negligence case. This kind of evidence is admitted not because it has the force of law, but rather as illustrative evidence of safety practices or rules generally prevailing in the industry.”

Application. Many churches have installed playground equipment on their property. Churches that have done so, or that are thinking of doing so, should be sure that their equipment is in compliance with “industry standards” for such equipment (including CPSC and ASTM standards). To be sure, check with your local building inspector or a public school administrator. Elledge v. Richland-Lexington School District, 2002 WL 31641456 (S.C. 2002).

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