Summer is here, and kids are celebrating the end of the school year and packing up for camp. New friends, outdoor activities, and time spent away from home to encourage independence are among the many benefits of a summer at camp. Nationwide, there are 7,000 overnight camps and about 5,000 day camps in the U.S., attended by some 11 million campers, according to the American Camp Association (ACA).
As parents, you are trusting your children to the supervision of others when you send them off to camp. Hopefully, you’ve done your research and selected a camp with a great reputation and track record of many summers without incident. Nevertheless, accidents do happen at camp. Most are minor scrapes and cuts, but serious injuries and illnesses can occur. When they do, who is responsible?
The Camp’s Duty of Care to its Campers
In most cases, the camp has a duty to keep it’s campers reasonably safe, under the legal theory of premises liability. The camp’s grounds should be maintained free of hazards, and the activities should be age appropriate, not unduly dangerous, and well supervised. The camp owes a duty to its campers and their families to review its programs and facilities to minimize injury risks. When the owner, operator, or a staff member of the camp fails in its duty to create and maintain a safe environment, and a serious accident or injury occurs, a parent might successfully sue the camp for their child’s injuries.
Types of Injuries and Illnesses that Occur at Camp
- Communicable diseases: Kids sleep in fairly close quarters and as with any time youngsters come together in groups, germs get passed from one to another. Most common are respiratory infections and gastro-enteritis, “stomach flu.” Most of these are minor and pass within a few days. In the rare instance of a serious outbreak of a life-threatening disease, such as measles or meningitis, depending on the circumstances, the camp’s vaccination requirements, and how the first case was handled, it might be possible to prove negligence and hold the camp liable for the cost of medical care, pain and suffering, and any long-term damage to the child’s health.
- Slip, trip, and fall accidents: If a child slips or trips and falls because of some hazardous condition at the camp, the owners may be held liable for any injuries that occur, if it can be shown that they were negligent in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and that they caused or allowed a hazardous condition to exist, under the legal theory of premises liability.
- Injuries resulting from the failure to use appropriate protective equipment: Team sports, horseback riding, and cycling are among the camp activities that require protective gear. If the camp either does not provide the gear or does not enforce its use, they may be held liable for your child’s injuries.
- Injuries resulting from lack of supervision: There’s no telling what kind of trouble kids can get into when left unsupervised. When you send your child to camp, you rely on the staff to provide appropriate supervision. It is the camp’s responsibility to provide it. The camp can be held liable for serious injuries or deaths (drowning, for example) brought about by lack of supervision of the campers.
- Inherently dangerous camp activities: Horseback riding, football, capture the flag, wilderness hiking, and other activities common at camp come with inherent dangers for kids who participate. You will usually be required to sign a release of liability form. If the camp has provided adequate training, supervision, and protective gear, they will probably not be held liable for a child’s injury in an activity with inherent danger. However, if they were lax in any of the above, you might have a case.
- Sexual or physical abuse of children due to failure of camp to screen staff: The camp is responsible for ensuring that the people they hire to supervise and guide the children are of good character. They should perform thorough background checks to determine if there any red flags that might indicate an applicant is not fit to be around children. Needless to say, a conviction for a violent crime, domestic abuse, or a sex offense should preclude hiring someone. If any sort of child physical or sexual abuse occurs at the hands of a staff member, the camp may be held liable for wrongful hiring and failure to properly investigate those who will care for the kids.
If Your Child’s Injury is More than a Minor One
Children are prone to injuries, and some types of injuries will inevitably occur at camp. The good news is that most camps have on-site healthcare providers and adhere to national camp standards requiring the presence of a licensed healthcare provider present around the clock to deal with most common illnesses and injuries as they occur.
Depending on the specific circumstances, the camp may or may not be held liable for serious injuries, depending on the specific situation in which the harm occurred. If your child suffered a serious injury or illness at a day or sleep-away camp that could have been prevented, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney to learn what legal options might be available.