Summer camp operators, and in some case property owners, have a special duty to consider the safety of campers in their care. Although summer camps generally aren’t expected to guarantee an injury-free experience, they are responsible for exercising reasonable care to avoid situations that are foreseeably risky. Camp operators must also take into consideration that children by nature do not practice the same level of care as adults when it comes to avoiding injury. Counselors, trainers and program organizers should take extra care to prevent contact with certain hazards with campers that, for adults, would be considered open and obvious. Failure to do so could lead to a claim for liability from any resulting injuries. Personal injury attorneys in Maine can help parents determine these claims.
Summer Camp Statistics
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), an estimated 14,000 camps operate in the United States. This is an $18 billion industry, employing 1.5 million people, with more than 14 million children and adult campers. Of ACA-accredited camps, about 45 percent offer specialized programming for individuals with disabilities. Roughly 80 percent say enrollment has either increased or stayed about the same in recent years.
The most common summer camp programming/activities include:
- Camping/outdoor skills
- Horseback riding
- Community service
- Wilderness trips
- Field trips to museums, amusement parks, etc.
- Service learning (community clean-up, food drives, volunteering with seniors, etc.)
In any of these activities, opportunity for child injury is ample. Summer camps have a responsibility to do their best to make these activities as safe as possible for campers, as well as to make sure there is a swift and adequate emergency response if something does happen, minimizing the extent of injuries as much as possible.
Assumption of Risk at Summer Camp
Parents need to understand that courts have, in more than a few cases, recognized that summer camp is sometimes inherently about risk-taking, and thus children and their parents assume some level of risk when they sign up. In one instance in 2012, an appellate court in Ohio ruled a camp and a camp leader were not negligent in the accidental night-hiking injury of a child because, per the primary assumption of risk, those participating assume a certain degree of risk with inherently dangerous activities, such as falling on a poorly-lit trail while hiking at night.
That said, child injury lawyers can win these cases if they can show that camp staff were in some way reckless, abusive or grossly negligent. In some cases, property owners can also be deemed liable if the property is not well maintained. Although many camps require parents to sign liability waivers, these are not necessarily catchalls and they won’t shield a camp from gross negligence.
Common Summer Camp Injuries
Some of the more common summer camp injuries include:
- Drowning. If your child is swimming in a lake, pool or other body of water, the program coordinators, property owners and counselors are responsible to ensure every child is supervised 100 percent of the time. Drowning is the number one cause of death globally, so there is no excuse for camps not to be aware of the danger.
- Heat stroke. It’s very easy for a child playing outdoors to be at risk of heatstroke, and the camp needs to be on alert to know appropriate preventative measures as well as emergency responses.
- Serious sunburns and sun poisoning. Children do not appreciate the risk of a serious sunburn, which is why camp counselors need to be vigilant about ensuring campers are wearing the right attire and frequently apply sunscreen. If sunburns are serious and require medical treatment, the camp may be held liable.
- Animal attacks and insect bites. If a child is supervised properly, serious animal attacks should be very unlikely. Still, we see situations, particularly with bigger animals like horses or large dogs, where this isn’t the case. When wild animal attacks do occur, it’s often because security is relaxed, food was left out, etc. In addition, bites from insects, ticks, spiders, snakes and other creatures should be take seriously and treated immediately.
- Illness. Kids who come into close contact with each other can get sick. The American Camp Association reports there are twice as many illnesses at summer camps as physical injuries. Normally, this is not a situation the camp can prevent, though they can minimize it with sanitary practices, as well as requiring all attendees be vaccinated. They need to ensure they promptly and properly treat illnesses, mindful of each child’s allergies and use medications that have not expired. Parents should be contacted in the event a child gets ill at camp.
- Collisions and falls. Falls are responsible for more than half of all non-fatal child injuries. Kids at camp climb trees, zipline, go hiking, and play sports. This doesn’t mean falls are inevitable. Camp counselors need to exercise appropriate safety precautions with each activity and ensure each child is properly supervised.
If your child is injured at summer camp, an experienced injury attorney can help determine your legal rights.
Contact the Bangor child injury lawyers at Peter Thompson & Associates by calling us at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.