Trampolines: safety & liability
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:
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:
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).
- 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.
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 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).