Key point 7-20.05. Some churches have installed skate ramps on their property as a means of outreach to the community. Skate ramps involve significant legal risks that must be recognized and managed.
Church leaders should consider the following points before installing a skateboard ramp on church property:
1. A high-risk activity. Skateboarding is inherently dangerous. While most injuries are scrapes and bruises, more serious injuries including brain injuries and death sometimes occur. The risk is elevated because of the tendency of skateboarders to mimic stunts they see on television. Some injuries occur to bystanders who are struck by flying skateboards. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 104,000 persons were treated in hospital emergency rooms in a recent year due to skateboard-related injuries. Most injuries were sustained by minors who often lack the balance and fine motor skills required for the safe operation of a skateboard.
2. City ordinances. Many cities have enacted ordinances addressing skateboarding on private property that is open to the public (i.e., parking lots). It is important to know if your community has enacted such legislation, since these laws will directly address your question. The typical ordinance specifies that skateboarding is prohibited on private property that is open to the public so long as the property owner posts one or more signs that provide reasonable notice to the public that skateboarding is not permitted. The size and content of such signs is usually prescribed by the ordinance. Many of these ordinances include roller blades, roller skates, and other devices. Violators generally are punished with confiscation of the offending device plus a small fine. Fines may increase with subsequent violations.
3. State laws. Some states have enacted laws that address skateboarding. To illustrate, the New York legislature enacted a law in 2004 requiring minors to wear helmets while skateboarding. Such legislation is based on the dramatic reduction in serious injuries among skateboarders who wear helmets. It is important for church leaders to be familiar with any state requirements, especially if they operate a skateboarding program.
4. Unsupervised ramps. Some churches construct skateboard ramps as a means of reaching out to minors, whether members of the church or not. Such facilities may be unsupervised, or supervised. To illustrate, many cities operate unsupervised skateboard parks that contain notices informing the public that the facility is unsupervised, that persons use it at their own risk, and that users must comply with enumerated safety requirements which typically include the following: (1) the use of helmets and knee and elbow pads; (2) no night-time use; (3) no modifications to the facility; (4) no motorized devices or other wheeled devices are allowed; (5) all users must inspect the ramps prior to use; and (6) a minimum age. Obviously, unsupervised skateboard ramps expose a church to some risk of liability, especially for injuries to minors who, according to some courts, cannot "assume" risks.
5. Supervised ramps. Some churches construct skateboard ramps as part of a supervised program. Users may include minors or adults, and church members or nonmembers. The risk of liability for supervised ramps is often managed by adopting various precautions, including some or all of the following: (1) The same precautions mentioned under "unsupervised ramps." (2) All adult users sign an assumption of risk form. (3) All minors are required to provide a document signed by a parent that consents to their use of the ramp and authorizes emergency medical treatment in the event that a parent or guardian cannot be reached. Contact information for the parents or guardians should be provided on the form. Some churches incorporate a liability release in the form, but such releases often are ineffective in the case of minors.
Note that a church's liability for injuries to skateboarders occurring during a supervised program will be based on negligent supervision. Be sure that you are providing adequate supervision. Check with other operators of skateboard ramps to see how they are supervising their activities.
6. Insurance. Check to be sure that the risks associated with skateboard ramps are covered by the church's insurance policy. Your insurer may have additional recommendation addressing risk management.
7. Other charities. Check with other churches and charities that use skate ramps to find out what they are doing to manage the risks. Adopt procedures and precautions that you consider helpful.
8. Legal review. Given the high level of risk, a church should not construct and operate a skateboarding facility without the prior review and approval of legal counsel.