Chicago Park District Could be Held Responsible for Injury to a Child Under 12 at Playground Because there was no Published Restriction to Notify Potential Users

Cheneka Ross, 13, was playing tag at a Chicago Park District Park playground while being chased by another child. She ran to the slide to avoid being tagged by one of her playmates. Cheneka climbed up the slide and as she started to slide down, one of her feet became caught on a piece of plastic near the slide’s bottom. She was not able to see the plastic from the top as the slide was curved. The girl fractured her ankle requiring surgery.

Cheneka’s mother, Artenia Bowman, filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Park District asking for her daughter’s medical expenses as well as damages, claiming that the district had acted willfully and wantonly toward the slide’s users. It was also alleged that the park district had received numerous complaints from the community about the slide’s condition and submitted multiple affidavits showed that the park district had received complaints about the slide’s defect since 2010.

The park district’s records system showed that in August 2010 the slide was “boarded up and waiting for repair.” One week prior to the incident with Cheneka, the park district log indicated that the “slide west of park [was] still broken.”

There was no indication that the slide had been repaired and the park district’s maintenance foreman remembered placing a work order in 2010, but could not remember if any repairs had been completed.

The central argument in this case was that the park district could not be held liable because the slide was designated as playground equipment for children 12 years or younger by city ordinance and as such Cheneka was in violation of that ordinance. That was because she was 13 and not 12 years or younger. Because she was older than the age limit, the park district argued that it was immune to liability.

Further, the park district maintained that the danger at the bottom of the slide was open and obvious and that the girl should have avoided using the slide altogether. Bowman, on the other hand, argued that the park was open to the public and that no sign declared that children over the age of 12 should not use the playground equipment.

The park district submitted an affidavit showing that there was such a sign, but the district’s witness later testified in a discovery deposition that he had only visited the park in question once, at some unknown point before the incident, and that he was not aware of any sign at the park. The court noted that the testimony conflicted with the affidavit.

The park district moved for summary judgment arguing that it had no liability because Cheneka violated the ordinance. The trial judge granted the motion and Bowman appealed. Bowman argued that there was no sign posted and thus there was no indicator that her daughter was not the intended user of the playground.

Interestingly enough the park district relied on cases that it cited in which individuals who violated city ordinances and were injured were unable to sue the city, but it was unable to find any case where a child was held responsible to be familiar with city ordinances.

The appeals panel noted the lack of legal precedent and in addition the appellate court found that there was no evidence that any sign had been present. The appellate court said that, “What would prompt a 13-year-old child to observe a slide and think, ‘Am I really the intended user of the slide?’”

The park district argued that signs are discretionary, not necessary. The appellate court agreed: By the park district ordinance, the signs are not necessary, but only so long as the district can show that the ordinance was published. No such showing was made in the case and therefore, the appellate court reversed the summary judgment order and remanded the case for further proceedings back to the trial court.

Artenia Bowman v. Chicago Park District, 2014 IL App (1st)132122-U (June 27, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lockport, Aurora, St. Charles, Geneva, Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Gurnee, Round Lake Beach, Winfield, Crystal Lake, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Bloomingdale, Ill.

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