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Trampolines: safety & liability

26 May 2008 4,920 views 20 Comments

One of our neighbors recently got a trampoline, something that I believe to be too risky an activity for children.  It’s one of those things where I read something about it ages ago, made the decision and don’t remember the specifics.  So the only logical thing to do is to research trampolines – to both explain to my kids why they can’t do what everyone else is doing and to have a discussion with the neighbors about the risks that they are assuming.  Here’s what I found out:

Safety

That’s the #1 issue for me – the safety of my children.  I’m not keen on an activity that has a much higher incidence of head & neck injuries.  Most, if not all, kids can recover from a broken arm or leg.  Not all kids completely recover from a broken neck or a serious spinal injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that trampolines NEVER be used without professional supervision.  That’s a very strong position to take, and it’s been their recommendation since 1981.  While I’m sure that there are some parents who are very, very careful with their home trampolines, most parents – like most people – won’t give it more than a passing thought.  Here’s a summary of common injuries:

  • Broken bones/fractures (45%, usually from falling off)
  • Concussions and other head injuries
  • Sprains/strains
  • Bruises, scrapes and cuts
  • Neck/spinal injuries (12%, usually on the trampoline itself)

It’s the possibility of spinal injury that freaks me out.  The Utah study (the % numbers above) was done over 7 years, and morethan one out of 10 kids had a spinal injury.  I feel already that the chance of injury itself is high, but the 12% is too big a chance that an injury may be much more serious.

Here are the common causes of injuries:

  • Landing wrong while jumping
  • Attempting stunts
  • Colliding with another person on the trampoline
  • Falling or jumping off the trampoline (only 28% of injuries)
  • Landing on the springs or frame of the trampoline

I then checked out the US Product Safety Commission for announcements & recalls.  Their Safety Alert confirms the AAP findings and adds some numbers:

  • The CPSC estimates that in 2001 there were 91,870 hospital emergency room-treated injuries associated with trampolines
  • About 93 percent of the victims were under 15 years of age, and 11 percent were under 5 years of age
  • Since 1990, CPSC has received reports of 6 deaths of children under age 15 involving trampolines (study date not specified, likely from 1999 or 2000)
  • Another CPSC study states 11 deaths from 1990-1999

Compared to biking, the death rates sound pretty good.  In 2006, 77 people died from bicycle accidents (I’m ignoring the 90% who died in collisions with cars – the total number dead in 2006 is 770).  The difference is an estimated 3 million trampolines in use vs. 85 million bike riders (and about 540,000 total annual bike injuries).

Additionally, children are actively taught to be safe on a bike by learning about traffic and common sense safety, with the majority of serious head injuries avoidable by the use of a relatively cheap helmet.  Some 45-88% of bicycle brain injuries can be prevented with a helmet, and similar increases in safety for trampolines *might* convince me that it’s worth the risk (more on risk in a bit).

Following are the safety recommendations for trampolines.  The starred items are the only ones mentioned by a major manufacturer while an online outdoor equipment store has an 18 point safety list:

  • Allow only one person on the trampoline at a time* (75% of injuries occur with more than 1 person involved)
  • Do not attempt or allow somersaults because landing on the head or neck can cause paralysis
  • Do not use the trampoline without shock-absorbing pads that completely cover its springs, hooks, and frame
  • Place the trampoline away from structures, trees, and other play areas
  • No child under 6 years of age should use a full-size trampoline
  • Do not use a ladder with the trampoline because it provides unsupervised access by small children
  • Always supervise children who use a trampoline* (though 50% of injuries occur while an adult is supervising)
  • Trampoline enclosures can help prevent injuries from falls off trampolines (28% of injuries)

Everything I’ve learned so far states that trampolines might be safe if used responsibly – VERY responsibly. Supervision by an adult is good to advise a kid who behaving dangerously, but 1) the kid might not hear, 2) the kid might not want to listen and 3) by then it might be too late.

It’s definitely not a good idea for my kids because of their age.  The Utah study notes that the average age of children was 7 and that 1/3 were less than 6.  Trampolines seem to be safer for older children and teenagers who are taught to use it responsibily, use it one at a time and are highly supervised by someone experienced and professional.  So, nay to the backyard trampolines and yea to gymnastics classes with a pro.  I imagine that a parent who gets trained by a professional would be ok as a supervisor.

Liability

My research into safety unearthed another issue that I hadn’t considered at all – liability.  In some cases, homeowner’s insurance will pick it up, but if there’s a serious injury I’m sure that the insurance company will try their best pin the blame on the homeowner.  The more likely scenario is that homeowner’s insurance won’t cover trampolines at all:

Insurance companies have watched the backyard trampolines quickly go from being a non-issue in underwriting to a factor used to disqualify a risk, and cancel homeowner insurance policies. Most Insurance companies will exclude any liability insurance coverage for household trampolines and will cancel policies when trampolines are seen during a drive by home inspection.

The main reason insurance carriers started excluding trampolines was in response to a policy statements of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which states categorically that trampolines should not be used at home, on playgrounds, or in physical education classes. Even with the proper safety measures in place.

Insurance companies have paid great attention to the latest statistics which indicate there are about three million backyard trampolines in use in the United States. With an estimated cost of medical, legal, insurance, and disability expenses resulting from trampoline accidents exceeding $270 million a year.

Some recent reports indicate trampoline injuries account for more injuries requiring emergency room treatment then backyard swimming pools do.

Insurance companies exist to make money, and if they consider the liability costs of trampoline injuries too high cover, that may be more telling than statistics on injuries and death.  The one freak accident can not only ruin the life of a child but devastate the homeowner’s financial life.  If homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it, getting more insurance is the smart thing to do.  As one lawyer noted, it can be expensive to defend a lawsuit if you have no insurance company to pay the costs of defense.  $200-500/year makes extra insurance a very smart investment.

It is possible to hire a lawyer to write up a waiver, but I cannot imagine a sane parent signing such a document.  And you may not want to get the idea of litigation into another parents’ head to begin with.  Even with a waiver, the trampoline owner is on the hook to make sure that they have EVERY single aspect of safety and security covered.  A smart legal team should be able to make such a waiver moot.

My conclusion

My kids (3 & 5) are too young and uncoordinated to use a trampoline.  I’m so thankful that we have a relationship with M whereby he listens and understands our reasons, even if it makes him angry.  And he does get angry and he’s not shy at all at letting us know how he feels (or doesn’t feel) about us.  However, we’ve been talking for months about a gymnastics class because M has energy up the wazoo, and we’re going to make that happen right away to mitigate the effect of watching the neighbors on the trampoline (multiple kids, unsupervised and as young as 5).

20 Comments »

  • Arp (author) said:

    I haven’t been able to find statistics that state how many of the annual reported bicycle accidents are related to cars. It’s hard to make a comparison with trampolines when one of the biggest influences on bicycle risk is a moving vehicle.

    I also forgot to note that the liability issue is similar to swimming pools, where it’s smart to have the trampoline in a fenced & locked area.

    In the meantime, we looked into gymnastics classes in our area and M is really psyched that he will be able to use a trampoline there :-)

  • JenC said:

    Really interesting. We’ve been thinking of a trampoline as well…well really I have and my husband isn’t too keen on the idea. This gives me some food for thought–thanks!

    I’ll be interested to hear how gymnastics goes. We haven’t found a program we like yet. But we are trying Roxanne’s cheerleading camp, which looks like fun.

  • Arp (author) said:

    I think like riding bikes, safety has to be taught. And be made a priority. The 1 out of 10 chance that an injury will be spinal is still freaky. I’m curious to see what M learns about trampolines from gymnastics.

  • swest said:

    My advice is to pass on the trampoline. Our lives have been ruined by ours. Two years ago (at age 7), our son had a severe brainstem stroke as a result of a whiplash effect on the trampoline. He never fell off or hit his head on the metal. He apparently just jerked his head the wrong way at the wrong time. This dissected one of his vertebral arteries which then through clots into his brainstem and cerebellum. I have found medical papers where this has happened to other children, and recently another family contacted me as it happened to their child.

    You never ever want to go through anything like this. 2 years post-stroke and he is still severely disabled in so many ways.

    No doubt that pools, bikes, and cars have far worse records for injuring children, so I’m not advocating banning them, but by getting one, you expose your family and friends to an enormous risk for a reason that is simply not worth it.

  • Arp (author) said:

    My heart goes out to you. I do think that the risks from trampolines may be much greater – it’s hard to compare but by sheer numbers there are more people using pools and bikes than trampolines. Just the sight of seeing our neighbors’ children, unsupervised and pushing each other around was scary.

  • dmac said:

    Thank you for all of your information. We were about to buy a trampoline for our 2 boys for Christmas. But, the possible risk outweighs the rewards as far as I am concerned. A freak accident could ruin our lives not only emotionally, physically, but financially.

  • Arp (author) said:

    You’re most welcome. I think that they’re ok with strict supervision – my son did well at a gymnastics class, and over the summer we went to a friend’s house who had one. It was pretty large (15′ or so) and the 4-5 kids on it – including our son – had room to jump without getting in each others’ way. We all watched them and let them know if they were being careless and it went well. I think we will get one eventually – our son has learned to do it carefully.

    Our former neighbors, otoh, were a tragedy waiting to happen. At a birthday party the smaller 10′ trampoline had 10 kids in it, all pushing and shoving each other with no supervision whatsoever. Our relationship with them deteriorated after we refused to let our son on – thankfully they recently moved away.

  • Trampoline Pads said:

    How important are trampoline pads, mine are fairly, worn, not sure whether to buy new ones or just remove them.

  • Arp Laszlo (author) said:

    In all honesty, I don't know. I'm sure we'll own one some day and I'll be sure to research the pads and see what's best.

  • jeffward75 said:

    We got our kids a 14′ trampoline for xmas. Our kids and neighbors kids all have a blast on it. So to stay on the topic in 5 months we’ve had no injuries other then a few friction burns. But, it is very important to supervise your children. Especially the teenagers because then tend to get out of control. But, both our boys have had more injuries over the last month riding their bikes and skateboards. One of our boys suffered from a concussion playing tag football and our daughter got kicked in the face while playing soccer. So my point basically is there is risk in every activity we allow our children to play or engage in. If you think back to when you was a kid, we all have done more dangerous and stupid things then we allow our kids to do. Also just a quick note about gymnastics; my wife sufferred from a spinal cord compression when she was in high school. So don’t take comfort in thinking gymnastics is safe. There is actually more severe injuries in gymnastics in one year then in the last ten years of trampoline injuries. My advice supervise your kids, teach them to play safely with proper protective gear, and follow safety guideline in any activity they play in. But, always remember there is always a risk of injury in everything we do. If you buy a trampoline use the safety next and padding. Also they make small trampolines for younger children that are only big enough for one child to play on. Keep Safe

  • Arp (author) said:

    I’ve chilled on the trampolines – I’m ok with it as long as there is supervision and the kids know what’s safe & what’s not. We went to a friend’s and both our kids had a blast on it, and we’re thinking of getting one since our son is *extremely* kinetic. The kid basically can’t stop jumping :-)

    Our former neighbors were idiots – they let kids on unsupervised with no teaching of safety, and they’re lucky no one got hurt. At one of their birthday parties the 8′ trampoline had 10-12 kids on it, jumping & shoving each other. It was freaky to watch, like a Darwin Award waiting to happen.

  • Jenna said:

    My 6 year old son is laying down right now with a pretty sore neck from horsing around on his new trampoline. I wasn’t there but apparantly he got the injury when he was sitting on the trampoline and his dad was jumping hard on purpose to make him fly up in the air. I guess it’s kind of like a whiplash effect. Anyways, I left them with strict orders not to do any back flips and now this. My son would have a melt down if I took it away. What do I do??

  • John E. said:

    My cousin and his wife live with me and this summer the neighbor who is not very responsible with her children put in her back yard a swimming pool and a trampoline. My cousin has 3 children ages 4,3, and 3months I advized him not to let his kids go next door and play because the neighbor will just let her kids go out and play and she will sit in the house on the computer yea I know bad senario well this past weekend my cousin let his kids go next door and sure enough the neighbor brings the 3yr old home screaming. Found out that she let six kids ages 9yr – 3yrs on the trampoline at one time. Now my cousin is in the hospital with the 3yr old getting x-rays because the 3yr old fell down on the trampoline and the bigger kids who are mean to begin with jumped on the 3yr old. And where was the adult, inside the house on the computer trying to pay her bills.

  • Trish said:

    You should educate his dad about proper trampoline use! Look up safety recommendations on the internet and show him. Then make sure he knows that a trampoline is no place for horsing around with his child. No adult should ever jump on a trampoline with a child on it at the same time. I’m sure dad probably didn’t realize the danger, but I’m sure he’ll take things much more seriously if you take the time to gently show him some safety guidelines.

  • Trish said:

    I think you have some great point, Jeff. I think we’d get a trampoline sometime in the future if all of our kids were on board with playing on it safely. I’m sure you are right about gymnastics being risky sometimes too. The only reason we took him to the gymnastics class is that it gave him a chance to use a trampoline with an adult literally *right there* to supervise, in contrast to our neighbor’s trampoline with no supervision. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jeff said:

    My name is Jeff. I am 33 years old and have two children who are 4 and 6 years old.

    I grew up on a trampoline. My sister and myself wanted one and our father told us if we could raise half the $$, he would pay the other half. We worked our butts off and he honored his word. We had a trampoline.

    Ours was not like the ones you see today with nets on the side. We also had 0 supervision on the thing. We frequently had up to 10 of our friends jumping and my sister and I perfected an art of launching her very high by a very coordinated and timed jump where my weight would send her flying 15+ feet into the air.

    The only time I was injured was when she landed on me and broke a finger once.

    Fast forward 25 years, and I am now a parent. My wife’s uncle is in a wheel chair due to a trampoline accident (granted he was 19 and drunk and acting accordingly)

    They are a lot of fun, and I never got badly hurt, but I now know someone who did. It was the only toy I used daily from small child into my teens, they are that much fun.

    I have mixed feelings as to if one is for my kids or not. I don’t want them to miss out on the fun I had. I also don’t want to roll them into a restaurant later because they can not walk, or worse.

  • Jeff said:

    It really is a tough choice. Sure, logic says they are dangerous, and keep the kids away.

    At the same time, growing up is full of risk. We have a two story home, and I have heard the sounds of da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da as one of my children go down the stairs head first many times. I have learned how to pull gravel out of my daughters knee when she crashes a bike.

    The scariest thing about being a parent is not having the ability to wrap the earth in nerf foam. I want to let them have fun like I did, but I also do not want to bury them. (I don’t mind a few ER visits) if anything that is good for the kids to learn limits on what can happen and creates fear, the only emotion that motivates a change in human behavior. It’s a very scary balance of priorities.

  • Arp (author) said:

    If we fast-forwarded to a year after I wrote the post, my oldest did go on a trampoline at a different friends’ house. These people were responsible and the other kids on the trampoline were not crazy and unsupervised. Growing up is risky for sure but we can’t keep our kids away from everything. The big thing for me is to keep them away from obviously dangerous situations, like the party I referred to in the post. As my kids get older and I learn about their abilities, the trust in them increases too.

  • Jeff said:

    Sorry was not trying to revive an old post – I had just been googling on the subject as I wrestle with the choice to get one for my kids or not. This post was ranked very highly in google. :)

  • Arp (author) said:

    No worries – if there’s one constant about parenting, it’s change. We learn and grow along with our kids :)