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As Chicago finally warms up, children will happily take advantage of the benefits of public playgrounds. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 200,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for playground related injuries each year. While many of these injuries are the inevitable result of young children at play, inadequately built or maintained playgrounds can create unnecessary dangers.

Last week, the city of Bethesda, Ohio closed one of its playgrounds because it did not meet adequate safety standards. Here in Illinois, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Park District have funded a four-year program to improve the conditions of public playgrounds.

In order to improve the safety of public playgrounds, the Consumer Product Safety Commission created guidelines which were updated last month. These, and the standards of the National Program for Playground Safety specify equipment regulations that could dramatically reduce the injuries that send children to the emergency room.

According to Illinois law, municipalities have a duty of ordinary care to ensure that recreational parks are “reasonably” safe. However, Illinois law does not hold the city responsible unless there is “willful and wanton misconduct,” (which has been defined as an intent on the part of the city to cause harm or an “utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of the children”). In the past few years, courts have held that a playground with tall equipment from which a child could fall or a playground in which the surface was not soft enough were not considered willful and wanton misconduct, while more severe conditions such as a slide without proper railings and a damaged sidewalk for roller-skating were found to be an inexcusable lack of maintenance.

As the summer months bring warmer weather to Chicago, public playgrounds will provide exercise and entertainment to children. However, these benefits must be accompanied with proper caution and supervision in order to prevent serious injuries, as urged yesterday to school administrators, parents and community members by Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois State Board of Education.

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