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Premises Liability and Camp

At this time of year, many children go away to summer day camp or sleep-away camp. While there, many children each year are injured or harmed. Injuries at camp range from near-drowning and swimming pool accidents, to broken bones, to serious spinal cord injuries or even brain injuries caused by falls or dives into swimming pools or swim areas. Since camps are designed to be remotely located, they tend to have a number of dangers. Children are often very active in camps, taking part in sports and activities which carry a risk of injuries. As well, since camps are remotely located, getting emergency help can be a challenge if a serious injury does take place.

Luckily, the incidence rate for camp-related injuries is not very high. According to one 2005 study, of 177 camper injuries and illnesses monitored over 122379 days at camp, there was a median incident rate of 1.15 injuries or illnesses per 1000 days at camp. About 68% of the incidents were illnesses. Of the remaining injury incidents, minor scrapes, cuts and scratches were most common, accounting for 33.3% of injuries. Broken bones accounted for 14.6% of injuries. Sprains and strains accounted for another 10.4% of injuries. The injuries which were most likely to cause injuries included capture the flag and horseback riding. Another 2009 study from the American Camp Association found that only about 3% of camp injuries required hospitalization.

While instances of camp-related injuries are low, they can still be devastating when they happen, and they can also be unsettling, because camps have a responsibility to keep campers safe. In fact, camps, like schools, have an obligation to keep campers safe under a doctrine known as in loco parentis, which means that the camp is essentially standing in place of the parent and is therefore expected to take the same reasonable care a parent would take to protect the children. When a camp is negligent in providing supervision, safe premises, or safe conditions or safety equipment, parents may have a personal injury suit if their child is injured as a result of the negligence.

However, camps are only expected to make reasonable provisions for safety. Camps are not responsible for the children’s absolute safety and when parents send their children away to camp, they are accepting a small risk. That is, they are accepting the risk that their children may be injured in regular sports activities. As long as a camp provides safe conditions and takes reasonable precautions to ensure safety, judges will generally accept that a camp is not responsible. As well, most parents sign consent forms when sending their children to camp and in many cases these consent forms do state that parents will not sue over every bump and scrape.

That said, however, a personal injury lawsuit due to a camp-related injury can still take place, especially if it can be proven that a camp was negligent. Camps are expected to ensure that activities are supervised to a reasonable degree. They are also responsible for ensuring that camp grounds are maintained reasonably well. If a child falls on a broken step that has not been maintained, the parents of the child may seek legal help, much as they would in a similar situation in any public place. In addition to the concept of in loco parentis, camps are also governed by the idea of premises liability. They are expected to make the grounds and property reasonably safe for visitors.

There are many things parents can do to keep their children safer at camp. The first thing parents can do is to choose summer camps with care. Tour the facilities and ask about safety precautions and safety measures. Make sure that all activities have good–quality safety equipment available. Make sure that there is an infirmary and access to emergency medical care. As well, ask about counselor training as well as camper:counselor ratios. Look for a camp with more counselors (and therefore more supervision) as well as more experienced or well-trained counselors. Often, counselors are the first line of defense when it comes to preventing injuries. Secondly, parents should talk to other parents about camp options. Which camps seem to have a high rate of injuries? Which ones have a good reputation for safety?