On January 2, 2007, ten-year-old Joel Charles was playing with his brother and best friend on a playground provided for the residents of Vista Hills Apartments in Hoover, Alabama. The boys were playing tag when Joel tripped and fell on a metal stake protruding from the ground inside the playground area. The fall caused severe lacerations to the child and caused severe injuries to his internal organs.
When Joel’s parents told the apartment complex about the injury, its management immediately reminded them that they had signed an exculpatory clause insulating the apartment complex from liability in this case. The complex did nothing to repair the dangerous condition existing on the playground. Fortunately for Joel, this incident occurred when it did. The day before, on January 1, 2007, Alabama’s Governor signed into law the current version of the Alabama Landlord and Tenant Act, which had recently been passed by the Legislature. Prior to this Act, exculpatory clauses would have prevented Joel from recovering for the injuries and holding the apartment complex responsible for maintaining a dangerous playground for the children. The Act now prohibits these exculpatory clauses and we applaud the Governor and the Legislature for taking these steps to protect Alabama’s citizens.
During discovery the apartment complex acknowledged a responsibility to keep the playground safe, yet virtually all the inspections done at the complex were limited to keeping paper and trash picked up. Several employees of the complex admitted that this stake was a very dangerous condition.
Playground injuries are a very serious concern for parents and children. Many playgrounds are not maintained to allow children to play safely. The problem existing at Vista Hills was recognized by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a primary concern in the group’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety. The very first page of the CPSC guidelines discusses falls on playgrounds, “[t]o address the issue of falls, these guidelines emphasize the importance of protective surfacing around playground equipment.” The CPSC recommends a comprehensive maintenance program to address various concerns, including “hazardous protrusions and projections.”
The apartment complex had no real maintenance program in place to check for and repair dangerous conditions on the playground. Chris Glover from our firm handled the case, which was filed in the Bessemer Division of the Jefferson County Circuit Court. The case settled prior to trial for a confidential amount. Chris did a very good job for our clients.
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