A Playground Accident and the Instinct to Blame

Hey fhfteffrin
Readers — Here’s a note about insurance issues, and modern-day instincts, that I really appreciate. It comes to us from Ann, a mom of three girls who blogs at houseofestrogen.com . (What a great blog name! ) – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Yesterday, my 11 year old fell off a piece of playground equipment at school (she called it a “spinny thing”) and broke her ankle. When I picked her up at school, I didn’t question what happened, when the playground equipment was last inspected, or who was supervising.  I just took her to urgent care with the understanding that these things happen.

While we were there, my daughter sobbed, “I’m never getting on that spinny thing ever again!” — an understandable sentiment given her level of pain and anxiety at that moment.  I said to her, “You know what, accidents happen. They just do. You’ve probably played on that thing a million times without ever getting hurt. Today was just an accident. At least you were having fun! Can you imagine if you broke your ankle while taking out the trash?  That wouldn’t be worth it at all. I bet when it happened though, you were having fun, laughing with your friends.”

And that’s when it hit me: Her immediate, instinctive response of “I’m never getting on that again!” is the response we’re seeing from parents and schools when accidents like this happen. I could have stormed into that school, demanded to have that piece of playground equipment removed and contacted the media about the dangers  of all “spinny things” on playgrounds.  I think her response of never wanting to get on there again was reasonable for her age, her maturity, and her view of how this injury is impacting her world.  As adults though, we need to take a step back and figure out what is really a true danger, and what is just an accident. It is as though people have forgotten the phrase, “accidents happen.”

Thanks for opening my eyes to Free-Range thinking. — Ann

I may look creepy, but I am not here to hurt you.

I may look creepy, but I am not here to hurt you.


37 Responses to A Playground Accident and the Instinct to Blame

  1. Liz K January 10, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    I applaud your level-headed ness about your daughter’s accident. However, I would anticipate your insurance company pursuing collecting from your school district. This is just SOP now for insurance companies, which is why schools and other institutions have to be such maniacs about accidents. My son broke his arm playing in our yard, and I had to fill out multiple forms and was questioned repeatedly by our insurance conpany to see if perhaps the accident happened on someone else’s property or if someone was negligent. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to stop them from doing so, even if it is not YOUR intention to “sue the school.” I hope this doesn’t happen, but I wanted to let you know my experience. I do hope your daughter is ok!

  2. TaraK January 10, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    “Today was just an accident. At least you were having fun! Can you imagine if you broke your ankle while taking out the trash? That wouldn’t be worth it at all.”

    AWESOME response, Mom! I hope that given a similar situation I can remember that one! (My son had to have stitches in his finger due to a pocket knife mishap while scraping paint. SO not worth it!)

  3. Josh January 10, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Liz K is right! I really believe that a huge amount of the anti-free range sentiment is driven by fear of lawsuits, and rightly so! Who wants to be financially ruined over something stupid? And even if you’re in the right, you need to hire an attorney to defend yourself. I really think that one of the best things that free-range advocates can do is to push for tort reform. If we can get back to accidents just being accidents instead of fodder for insurance company lawsuits, then businesses/schools/etc wont feel the need to ban everything for fear of financial consequences.

  4. Christina January 10, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Awesome response to an accident, Ann! Your daughter is a lucky girl. Hope she heals quickly and is back on the “spinny thing” in no time!

  5. Piper January 10, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    If that teeter totter is not there to hurt kids, then why does it want to touch their bums?

  6. Carla January 10, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    We just had very much a similar experience. My daughter broke her arm on Christmas eve falling from a zip-line slider thing in a play structure. Her first reaction was to blame and we have had many chats about how accidents happen and how sometimes you fall just a little different and your bones even though they are quite strong can break. We continue to play outside though, life goes on.

  7. Julie January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    @Liz: We had similar situation last summer. My son decided while at soccer camp that he wanted to “invent a new kick,” one that begins with the kicker standing on top of the ball and then kicking it out from underneath himself. He clearly did not think this one through! And he got a broken arm because of it.

    The soccer camp was put on by our church. It was held at a local elementary school. Our insurance had us fill out forms, trying to figure out who they could sue to reclaim the costs for the injury. I understand that It is what will keep their (and therefore my) costs down. HOWEVER, I was simply NOT going to let them sue my church because my son’s own foolishness, so I left out any mention of them. As far as my insurance knows, my kid was playing with a soccer ball and fell. Which is entirely true and accurate. That he happened to be a sports camp on school grounds was not their fault. I’m sorry, but I’ll pay out of pocket before they go after my church for that. Besides, isn’t that what insurance is for? Absorbing the costs if something should happen?

  8. Warren January 10, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Standing Ovation for you Mom. Awesome job.

    Luckily in Ontario, with our healthcare system, you go into the ER, kid gets fixed. and no insurance forms, or companies around to try and assign blame.

  9. Alice January 10, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    Great response! And yes, unfortunately the insurance companies have to know EXACTLY what happened. My daughter had to get stitches a few years ago after she hit her head on the bus….just bumped her head the wrong way on the window ledge, & I did have to fill out several insurance forms to clarify that no one was “at fault.” When I was a kid, I broke my arm 4 times, including the year I broke my arm twice, had a bike accident / knocked out my teeth & got stitches on my lip all within a few months. It was called playing!

  10. Becca in Alaska January 10, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    Nice to read about a normal and sane response every now and then.

    I’ll add my own insurance story. My then 2 year old daughter tripped over her own feet face planting on the hard wood floor in our house. She knocked herself out and stopped breathing. We called 911 and the ambulance took her to the hospital. (She was fine) Before the insurance woud pay for the ambulance bill they sent me a form and all the questions on it were trying to find someone else to “blame”. It made me sick filling it out.

  11. Liz K January 10, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    @ Julie, my heart is with you, and I admire your loyalty to your church, but I wouldn’t recommend being dishonest since that can lead to denial of payment for the claim or cancellation of your coverage. It’s a shameful system.

  12. John January 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Lenore (et al.) I highly recommend book titled “See You in Court” by labor layer Thomas Geoghegan. He writes that if fair contract law were upheld, we wouldn’t be stuck with our fear and proliferation of lawsuits. Passionate, funny little book. Here’s the Amazon description:

    “Since the dawn of the Reagan era, America’s traditional legal structures have been gradually undermined, replaced by a kind of legal rage that has led to an explosion in the number of lawsuits. Why do Americans sue each other as often as we do and how has this basic rift in our civic trust come to pass?

    In an impassioned rebuttal to books such as Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense, which argue that liberals have made the United States overly litigious, public-interest lawyer and award-winning author Thomas Geoghegan explains why these books have it backwards. In reality, Geoghegan argues, it is the conservative revolution that opened the floodgates of litigation and helped to spur the lawsuit culture that Howard and others decry. According to Geoghegan, the country’s current addiction to litigation and the need to find someone wrong is a natural response to the right’s dismantling of America’s postwar legal system—a system based on contract, trust, and administrative law, in which it was not necessary to go to court in order to stay solvent, keep your job, or recover from an accident.”


  13. vjhreeves January 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Wow. Last year, my 4 y/o broke her arm on her preschool playground monkey bars, AFTER school hours with ME there. I was not contacted by anyone from insurance company or school, and filled out NO insurance paperwork at all. We proceeded with ER visit and orthopedic treatment with no hassles. Didn’t know how lucky I was.

  14. LisaS January 10, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    on one hand, my daughter broke her arm playing on the (new) playground in the park with the cushy rubber surface … she was swinging too high on the saucer swing thing. I said essentially the same thing as Ann.

    On the other hand, the possibility of lawsuits does force action where it is needed. The rubber mulch on our school playground hadn’t been augmented in at least 5 years, and during the spring semester 2 years ago several children – 5 or 6 – fell from the equipment and broke arms. I really think it was only the threats 2 of those parents made of legal action that made the district step up, replace the mulch and repair our playground.

  15. Michele R January 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Now that I see all these comments about insurance companies looking to sue someone, I remember that we got a similar letter when my son broke his leg. Jumping off our sofa, in our living room. It’s a shame that there always has to be someone to blame. He was two. Accidents happen.

  16. Christina January 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I’ve been fortunate – out of 3 accidents requiring hospital visits (not bad for 2 boys!), only one has resulted in the “whose fault was this?” form. Since it was entirely my sons’ fault (busted chin from horseplay on the stairs at the local conservatory), it was pretty easy to fill out.

  17. Amy H. January 10, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    My son broke his arm on the monkey bars during recess when he was in 1st grade. Sitting in the ER of our Children’s Hospital, I thought about how grateful I was for his broken arm. He was going to get fixed up and sent home in a few hours. Some of the children in the ER with us that day would not be so fortunate. His broken arm meant he was healthy and active and able to go to school and play at recess with his friends (and, yes, to jump off the monkey bars).

  18. Bronte January 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Kiwis say with me “Yay for ACC”

    In New Zealand we waived our right to sue for accidents In the 70’s in return for the Accident Compensation Corporation. It provides universal accident insurance for everyone. Between that and our State health care there’s no blame society. It is in danger from the right wingers currently in power though. Spiralling costs are threatening it too.

  19. Emily January 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    On the second day at our new school (I was in grade five, and my brother was in grade two), my brother got pushed off the monkey bars by another kid, and broke his foot. My parents are both lawyers (well, at the time, my dad was a lawyer, and my mom was still in law school), but it didn’t occur to them to sue the school, or the manufacturers of the playground equipment, or the parents of the kid who’d pushed him–they figured that playground injuries were, in the words of those old Wonder Bread commercials, “part of a complete childhood.” Anyway, long story short, my brother was fine after a week or two in a walking cast, because little kids’ bones heal quickly, and so, life moved on. However, the following spring, the school responded (rather belatedly) to the incident, by yanking out all the traditional metal playground equipment, and putting in the plastic “safe” stuff, that was only a few feet off the ground. Shortly after I finished grade eight at that school, THAT equipment was gone too, and it was just a sand pit. My point is, I agree with the mother who wrote this article–if people systematically eliminated EVERY facet of childhood, after ONE child got hurt by it, then there’d be no childhood left, which would cause a lot more psychological damage in the long run than a skinned knee, knocked-out tooth, or even a broken bone.

  20. mollie January 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    I celebrate the attitude of this mother! Hooray for you and your kid! You are a gift to the world!!

    This also helps me understand for myself why it really was so important to me to move from the US to Canada. A lot of people scratched their heads and said, “What’s the difference? All you’re going to do is pay more taxes and have colder weather.”

    It’s about fear, and the relief from being surrounded by it from all sides. There are the more subtle fears, like the fear of not belonging or being accepted that fuels the US economy… it’s a bit less frantic on that level here, though certainly there is consumerism and purchasing for reasons that go beyond actual need. I just don’t get the sense that people are buying out of fear, though. Then there is the fear of the “other,” that fear that fuels the market for handguns and assault weapons in the US… that just seems to be utterly absent here. In my neighbourhood, there are few who even lock their doors during the day, and security systems are nearly nonexistent, which I love.

    This letter today, however, brings up that awareness for me about another kind of fear… the fear around being cared for, the doubt that there is a system in place that will support you, even if there is no one to blame for what happened to you. As someone else posted, here in my province, you get injured, you go to the clinic or the ER, you never see a bill, you never submit a form, and, most wonderfully, there is no blame assigned. So no one must fear judgement or blame in the case of accidents on the playground.

    We did see the “dumbing down” of playground here for a while, and I imagine it had something to do with sustainability… as in, if the medical system in public, then we want to be as resourceful as possible and keep as many people whole as we can, and if we can avoid broken bones and concussions, we’ll try, by making the playgrounds more boring (same reason there are rigidly enforced helmet laws for bicycles here, and giant pictures of diseased lungs and decayed teeth on the cigarette packaging). That said, I have noticed that the last three brand-new playground designs in my city have been refreshingly full of potential peril. 🙂

    Again, I celebrate this mother. And I appreciate the reminder to be grateful all over again for the enormous shift I’ve experienced, moving to a country where health care is provided by the government for all.

  21. Angelica January 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    About insurance companies…. I wonder. We haven’t had any real accidents in our household, other than me passing out when I had pneumonia (still got it) and splitting my lip open on the kitchen floor. So I don’t know if these “finding someone to blame” forms are different from regular insurance forms or not.

    I know that our insurance company regularly sends us forms checking to see if we have other insurance (“please have other insurance, please have other insurance”) and when I file out-of-network claims I always have to check off a box that my problems weren’t caused by an auto accident and that I don’t have other insurance or medicare/medicaid.

    I don’t think we should make too much of these forms or assume that we are “lying” (or that they’ll think we are lying) if we don’t spell out all the details of the accident. An accident is an accident. Unless your bill is for $60,000, most insurance co.s have enough work that they’re not going to be reading between the lines and hunting you down for more explanation. That’s my opinion, of course.

    Kudos to the mom in the original post who kept a sane perspective on the whole thing. Now let’s see if the school keeps some sanity as well.

  22. Lisa January 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    I work at a school that is 20 years old, and this past summer they replaced the playground equipment. Surprisingly, they added a merry-go-round of sorts, but it was shaped like an umbrella, and instead of sitting on it, you hang from it. I was very happy to see them install something like this, and the kids really enjoyed it.

    It was only a matter of time…

    …A few months into the school year, a child broke his ankle at recess while using this piece of equipment. One child out of nearly 800 kids at the school. So, obviously, the school hired someone to come over that day and solder it to make it a solid, non-spinning piece of equipment that now the kids can only climb on. What a waste!

    Of course, this happened at a school that banned those rubber foursquare playground balls for use during kickball games, because one left a red mark on a child as he was running the bases and it was thrown at him.

    Nerf balls suck for kickball, by the way.

  23. joanne January 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    It isn’t about insurance companies suing other entities, it is about claim subrogation. Think about when you’re in a car accident. If it is partially someone else’s fault, they should pay part of the bill.

    Paying claims costs money and if you are on group health insurance, it costs your employer or group money. This costs you money in higher insurance premiums or lower pay raises. An individual looks at it as well I have insurance, but the reality is that when there are a lot of claims, rates go up. Your teenager crashes 2 cars, your rates go up. If only one of those crashes was your teenager’s fault, you want the other company to pay and to hold down YOUR premiums, right?

    Most of these forms are sent standard anytime there is an accident. I slit my own hand open in the kitchen opening a can and it took 10 stitches. I got the accident forms, filled them out indicating it was in my own home and my own stupidity and everything was fine. They didn’t go after my renter’s insurance or the can manufacturer or anything like that.

  24. hineata January 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    @ Bronte – amen, and amen, and amen!

    Am currently stuck in plaster during this wonderful summer weather ( though hope you didn’t get caught in the floods, gathered you might be from down South somewhere..), thanks to an oh-so-fun relay race against kids at my school. All I had to do was fill out an ACC form, and put up with laughter from the nurses plastering me at the thought of my overweight middle-aged body rolling on the concrete in front of several hundred kids.

    No lessons learnt, but no money paid out either, beyond my normal taxes, and no blame attached to anyone else.

  25. Angelica January 10, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Joanne: well, it’s a little more clear cut why you would want someone else to blame when it’s a car accident, since that involves a moving vehicle and operator judgment, and usually if there are two cars involved, *somebody* was to blame. Although some states have seen the inherent problems with how this can raise insurance rates, and have introduced no-fault insurance.

    In the rest of life, things are more vague, and I don’t think it’s dishonest or risky to keep your answers vague but honest when giving the insurance company info about an injury.

  26. Donald January 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Excellent article! I love it!

    “I’m never going on it again!” is an appropriate response for a young girl that’s in pain. However, many parents have the same attitude. They’re older and are suppose to be mature. They can’t comprehend that accidents sometimes happen. They must investigate who they can blame or take action to achieve zero tolerance.

    ‘Lets ban spinny thingys and sue the school for even having one!’

  27. Donald January 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    @ mollie

    Thank you! Your comments woke me up!

    I get the question all the time. “Why did you move from America and why do you prefer Australia?”

    Until your post, I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

    It’s the fear factor. Even if you’re not a fearful person it’s still uncomfortable living with so many people that are.

    I describe it like passive smoking.

    The ‘fear cancer’ is coming into Australia but it’s nowhere near what it’s like over there.

  28. tramlover January 10, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    @ Donald

    I am also in Australia – (but from UK originally) – I do see elements of the ‘fear cancer’ here, I hope it doesn’t happen – any ideas on how to stop it? I think sometimes it can creep in without people noticing – I often hear people here say “Only in America” when they hear things – without hearing that similar things do happen albeit with much less frequency/publicity – a dad being arrested for letting 10 year old go buy sushi in a shopping center for example.

  29. Beth January 10, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    My daughter fell off a piece of playground equipment and broke her arm back in 1996. As far as I recall, there were no additional forms to fill out and no questions from our health insurance provider. I guess things really ARE different now (in some respects).

  30. Julie January 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    @Liz: I was not dishonest. They did not specifically ask if it was an organized game or why he was playing at the time. Had they done that, I would have told them. But I felt no reason to bring the church into it when they were not at fault. Truth was, it could have happened in my own backyard, and there was no negligence on the part of the organizers–and the only thing that could have come from it was that they would be financially unable to provide the sports camp next year–which would be a real bummer since we host a couple hundred kids, many of them for free (which is a big deal to low-income families.)

  31. Liz K January 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    @ Julie: I hope I didn’t offend, and I never meant to imply that YOU were dishonest. I was only hoping to let the original poster (Ann) know that she should tread carefully in terms of communicating with her insurance company. In my situation, I was sent forms that asked specifically if my son’s injury occurred on my property or someone else’s, as well as other questions that made it clear that my insurance company was looking to find another party from whom to collect. I had to sign to attest that my statements were true and untrue statements constituted insurance fraud. I am glad that your insurance co. did not require such detail, and again, I totally admire and agree with your instinct. In fact, I never mentioned to them that at the time my kid broke his arm, he was in the care of a babysitter out of the same instinct to protect her & her family from any liability for a normal childhood accident.

  32. Yocheved January 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    Excellent response to your daughter! So much like the time my daughter was running barefoot in the grass and stepped on a bee. Once she got over the initial shock, she was back outside, barefoot! You can’t live in fear of the odds.

  33. Donna January 11, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Insurance companies are not looking for random people to sue. However, there are times when accidents are legally the financial responsibility of someone else. If someone hurts herself on my trampoline or swing or trips over a stair on my property, even if just a careless accident, it absolutely is the responsibility of my homeowner’s insurance to pay, not their health insurance. That is the way the insurance system in the US works. If an injury to someone else occurs on your property, it your financial responsibility. So if your child is hurt on my swing, even in a routine accident, please put my name on the form. I’m the rightful payer and that is why I have insurance. Maybe if we didn’t get our panties in a twist over this and allowed the proper insurance companies to pay, our health insurance premiums wouldn’t be so high. But we want to dump everything on them so premiums continue to rise.

    Seeing that the right insurance pays is a very different concept than suing me for your child being injured on my property. Expecting my home owner’s insurance to pay because my homeowner’s insurance is the proper source of the money is one thing. I’ll happily cover any medical bills. Trying to hit me (my insurance) up for pain and suffering or emotional distress or whatever money grubbing thing you come up with for a routine accident is wrong.

  34. bmommyx2 January 11, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    The difference between kids & grown-ups is that the with kids it’s short lived & grown ups want permanent change. My son got a really bad wood splinter from the wood play structure at his pre-school & he had the same reaction. He avoided the structure for a little while & slowly warmed back up to it. He also scraped his knuckle on a stucco wall & was avoiding them for a while.

  35. Frau_Mahlzahn January 11, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    Excellent insight!

    Provided they didn’t break any bones or aren’t bleeding extremely, what I tell them when they hurt themselves on playground equipment, trees, or balancing on whatever: “Now, go try it again, so it won’t get to scare you.”

    So long,

  36. Chris Michaud January 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    I have some insight into the insurers’ interest in where the accident happened, as well. Many business liability policies have a section cleverly entitled “Medical Payments” which typically has a $5k to $10k per injury limit for reimbursement of medical expenses incurred as a result of injuries that occur on or on the ways next to the premises. This pays on a primary basis, regardless of fault…sort of a ‘good neighbor’ coverage. Because it pays on a primary basis, the insurers need to know if it exists so the billing can be handled properly.

    I agree though that often, things just happen and kids need to learn this. Sometimes it’s just a bummer and nobody owes you anything.

    I love this blog.

  37. KathieSue January 17, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    In second grade my class went to an amusement park on a field trip….there were concrete mushrooms for the kids to play on….I got pushed off one mushroom by another student and slammed face first into another another..breaking my brand new front teeth…I still have problems from that but no one sued anyone….even though it was intentional it was considered an accident and a side effect to playing.