Kids’ parties are a part of growing up. Friends made at pre-school, kindergarten, or grade school often get together for birthday parties where food, games, and party favors are handed out. One common feature at kids’ parties are bounce houses, inflatable structures akin to trampolines for kids to literally bounce up and down on, inside the “house”, though at much lower heights than true trampolines.
Still, these structures can pose significant safety risks. In Massachusetts, anyone who conducts a business that rents out a bounce house must be licensed and insured. A recent investigation by a local television station prompted by a complaint from a licensed bounce house operation found 6 bounce house companies in western Massachusetts that were neither licensed nor insured despite each having been operating for more than 5-years. These companies are also required to adhere to specific safety guidelines and to carry adequate risk insurance.
Steps to Take to Insure Safety at Kids’ Bounce House Parties
If you plan to rent a bounce house from a business that supplies such structures, you should inquire whether they are licensed and what insurance they possess. Although you will typically be told to sign a waiver of liability before the company will rent the structure to you, such waivers do not relieve the business owner from negligent operation, set-up, or any other negligent factor that causes injury. In the event you do rent a bounce house from an unlicensed and uninsured business, however, you may have a difficult time collecting compensation from the business. But, if the party is on a private residence, it is likely the homeowner will have homeowner’s insurance.
Any other objects used at a kids’ party should either be examined or the homeowner questioned about its safety such as go-karts. If a dog is on the property, you may want to see if the dog will be roaming around off-leash.
If your child suffers a serious injury in a bounce house or swimming pool such as a broken limb or head injury, immediately contact a Massachusetts child injury lawyer. The circumstances of the accident and the subject structure need to be immediately investigated and examined. Your child injury lawyer will likely need to interview the parents who were present at the time and place of the injury as well as have an expert test and examine the bounce house, pool or other item involved. Time is usually of the essence in such cases as critical evidence can be lost or covered up by the responsible parties.
Premises Liability Principles
An injury that occurs on someone else’s property generally falls under the laws and rules of premises liability. A slip and fall, dog bite, drowning or near-drowning in a pool, or injury in a bounce house on someone’s private property are governed by this cause of action.
Homeowners and renters have a duty of care to persons lawfully on their property who are referred to as social guests or licensees. These include persons such as meter readers, police or firefighters, or anyone else not trespassing on the property. Their duty includes warning these individuals of known hazards or taking measures to fix or remedy the problem. In the case of a homeowner who rented a bounce house or other equipment for the party that turned out to be defective, the business could be held liable but the homeowner may also be found responsible for allowing a defective structure that was rented from an unlicensed business and was not maintained or set up according to state safety regulations to be used by social guests.
Other hazards include allowing kids to swim in the homeowner’s pool without parental supervision or safety equipment such as a fence or gate that meets state standards and prevents toddlers from entering. If a child slips on a defective step or falls into a hole on the property that the owner knew was present, liability will likely be imposed.
Also, because children are involved, the homeowner should be aware that small children present risks not otherwise a concern for responsible adults. For instance, ditches or holes, mechanical equipment, or tree houses attract children who may not appreciate the risks these conditions present. Further, allowing a dog to roam on the property and to attack or bite a child who was trying to pet or play with it is a common injury associated with premises liability claims against homeowners or renters. Dog bite laws permit strict liability to apply so that the victim need only prove that the dog belonged to the owner and that he or she was bitten without provocation.
In such cases, the property owner or tenant has a duty to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the risk.
Time Limits for a Claim
In Massachusetts, you generally have 3-years from the date of the accident to file an injury claim in the appropriate court. This time is shortened for claims against a governmental entity. However, in the case of children the time limit or statute of limitations does not begin to run until the child turns 18. There is an exception for medical malpractice claims. But waiting too long to at least file a claim against the business that supplied the structure or item that was defective or against a homeowner can jeopardize your claim since evidence can disappear or be altered and memories can fade over time. Witnesses can also move so that their valuable testimony is lost.
Damages in Kids’ Injury Claims
Damages sustained by children can differ to some degree from those claimed by adults. These can include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Diminished quality of life
- Permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Lost earning capacity
- Parental claim for loss of consortium
In serious injury cases such as brain injury, proving damages such as a child’s lost earning capacity can be complex. Your child injury lawyer will need a medical expert working in conjunction with a vocational expert to determine the child’s loss of earning capacity and loss of work life expectancy.
As the parent of an injured child, you will likely be named as guardian ad litem in any injury claim. A court must approve any settlement of $10,000 or more and the funds deposited in an account for the child that may not be withdrawn absent special circumstances until the child turns 18. Your child injury lawyer can discuss the types of accounts these funds may be deposited into.
Retain Burns and Jain
Burns and Jain is an injury law firm that handles injury claims of any sort including complex ones involving child injuries. Our attorneys use all resources at their disposal to get your child the compensation he or she will need and deserve. Call our office today at (617) 227-7423 to discuss how we can handle your child’s claim.