Besides top bunk of a bunk bed is just not a dangerous instrumentality.
The mother of a thirteen-year old girl sued the Girl Scouts of Gulf Pine Council, Inc., the troop leader of her daughter’s unit and the camp when the girl fell off the top bunk of a bunk bed injuring her. The basis of the suit was the defendant’s actions caused or contributed to the thirteen-year olds fall. After the defendants were dismissed on summary judgment by the trial court the mother appealed claiming the lower court failed to determine the following:
(1) in failing to follow existing standards in granting the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, (2) in finding no merit to Buck’s argument that a causal relationship existed between Boozer’s temporary absence at the time of the accident and Jamie’s falling from the bed, and in applying the wrong standard when considering Boozer and the Girl Scouts’s lack of supervision, and (3) in ruling as a matter of law that a bunk bed is not a dangerous instrumentality and that Appellees‘ use of bunk beds did not amount to a failure on their part to use reasonable care in providing Jamie a reasonably safe place to sleep.
The entire case revolved around what did the injured girl’s mother know?
The mother took her daughter to camp and helped set up her bed the first night. The second night the group moved to another cabin because the first cabin did not have a working refrigerator. The mother was not there for the move or the remaining nights. The girls decided to sleep on the top bunks, even though lower bunks were available.
The second night after the move the third night in total, the thirteen-year old rolled off the bunk and fell suffering injuries.
The first argument was dismissed because there was no legal (causal) relationship between the defendant leader leaving for an errand and the girl falling out of the bunk. No supervision when the girl fell would have prevented her from falling.
The plaintiff then argued, as part of the first appeal argument that the girls should not have been allowed to sleep on the top bunk. However, the court found the plaintiff presented no evidence that bunk beds or sleeping on the top bunk by thirteen-year old girls were dangerous.
The court then looked at whether bunk beds were a dangerous instrumentality. This means that in and of themselves, bunk beds are dangerous. Guns are probably the best example of a dangerous instrumentality. However, the court found that there was no evidence the beds where dangerous on their face. The mother during her deposition testified that she knew her daughter might be sleeping on a bunk bed, expressed no concerns about that fact and did not inform anyone that she did not want her daughter sleeping on the bed.
The court referred to a New York decision that held that an innkeeper is not responsible for the beds, when the parent is the one who chooses whether or not their child can sleep in it.
Finally, the court looked at the failure to warn issue. A land owner owes a duty of care to someone on the land based on the relationship between the land owner and the person. Here, the thirteen-year old was an invitee. A landowner’s duty to an invitee is “exercising reasonable care to keep its premise’s safe, or to warn Jamie [the injured girl] of any hidden or concealed perils of which it knew, or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable care.”
Here again the court had no evidence in front of it showing that bunk beds were dangerous so that the landowner, the camp, needed to inform the mother of the dangers.
So Now What?
What stands out in this case is the fact the mother, and probably the daughter, knew what the daughter was going to do and did not stop those acts. If a parent and a child know and understand what the risk of the activity is, then it is difficult for them to prove that the risks were dangerous. If the risks were dangerous, then why didn’t the mother inform the daughter or the troop leader that she did not want her daughter participating in the particular risks?
Here, the proof came out in a deposition. However, I believe that is relying on luck to hope that discovery will save your case. Better to point out all the risks of the activity to the parents and children and be able to prove that you did point them out.
There are two ways of doing that. The first is to put the risks in a release and have the parents sign the release. This works for single day activities were the risks can be easily identified…..to some extent.
Better to put everything you can on your website. A movie of the cabins showing bunk beds would have also proven the points to the parents and the court. If each cabin is different have the parents look at the cabins that their child is staying in. Always point out that cabins are different and some have other features and numerate the risks.
Do the same with the dining hall, health club, paths and all buildings and activity areas. Give the parents every opportunity to experience the camp without leaving their computer. No matter what you show it will help sell the camp and keep parents informed of the risks.
Proving the parent watched the videos is easy. On all of your literature tell the parents to go to the website and look around. On the release, have the parents agree that they did go to the website and look around.
If you think, the videos are difficult to do, then don’t. Turn it into a project and have the kids make them!
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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