Although trampolines can provide fun and exercise for children, teenagers, and adults, they also present a risk of injury and potential liability.
Trampoline use has been in the news recently, as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended against use by children following a history of concern in the medical and product safety professions about the associated risks.
In 2010, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data, there were 92,159 emergency room visits for trampoline-related injuries. The estimated cost of these injuries is $4 billion annually. Among the most common are sprains and fractures, however, more serious cases have led to paralyzing injuries and death.
Although the CPSC has not promulgated a formal safety standard for trampolines, it has endorsed the voluntary industry trampoline standard of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM). In 1999, the CPSC requested changes to this standard to require padding over the entire frame, labels for use by children, prohibiting sale of ladders with trampolines and adding warnings. It also recommended the use of net enclosures.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that most injuries occur on home trampolines to children ages 5 through 14 when use is unsupervised. Two-thirds of injuries occur when two or more are using the trampoline at one time. The most common causes of injury were colliding with another user, landing improperly while doing a stunt, falling or jumping off the trampoline and falling on the trampoline springs or frame.
In 2010, they released these extensive recommendations for trampoline use:
- Use of trampolines for physical education, competitive gymnastics, diving training and other similar activities requires careful adult supervision and proper safety measures.
- Trampolines should not be used for unsupervised recreational activity.
- Competent adult supervision and instruction is needed for children at all times.
- Only one participant should use a trampoline at any time.
- Spotters should be present when participants are jumping. Somersaults or high-risk maneuvers should be avoided without proper supervision and instruction; these maneuvers should be done only with proper use of protective equipment, such as a harness.
- The trampoline-jumping surface should be placed at ground level.
- The supporting bars, strings and surrounding landing surfaces should have adequate protective padding.
- Equipment should be checked regularly for safety conditions.
- Safety net enclosures may give a false sense of security – most injuries occur on the trampoline surface.
- Trampolines are not recommended for children under 6 years of age.
- Make sure trampoline ladders are removed after use to prevent unsupervised access by young children.
To the homeowner, backyard use of a trampoline poses both the risk of injury to users, especially children, and also a risk of legal liability to anyone injured.
In the face of these three medical and safety group recommendations for use, allowing children unsupervised use or access to a trampoline would seem to be an invitation to legal liability for injuries. The same would be true for the homeowner allowing two or more children to use a trampoline at once.
Any defect in the trampoline’s condition would provide another basis for liability. Examples might be missing padding, a damaged or missing net enclosure or a ladder allowing unsupervised access.
Usually homeowner’s insurance will provide coverage for the homeowner’s liability in the event of a trampoline injury. In the event of a catastrophic injury or death, the usual homeowner’s insurance policy might be inadequate to cover the damages and the homeowner might be subject to personal liability.
In some circumstances, the trampoline manufacturer and seller may also have legal liability. For example, failure of the trampoline to comply with the ASTM safety standard (although a voluntary standard) might subject the manufacturer and seller to legal liability.
An experienced personal injury attorney should be consulted to investigate possible legal liability of the homeowner, manufacturer or seller in the event of a serious trampoline injury.