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Summer camp supervision issues are always part of any lawsuit and tough to determine in New York.

Kosok v. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York, 24 A.D.2d 113; 264 N.Y.S.2d 123; 1965 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3042

As long as there was no notice of a problem and no rule of the camp or standard for the camp, assumption of the risk is a valid defense against minors claim.

New York had dozens of decisions concerning lawsuits by injured campers. It is going to take months to figure out if there is any discernable rule or idea on how to run a camp in New York. This decision is a start.
At this camp groups of boys were divided into cabins by age groups. After lunch “camp regulations” required a rest period. Younger campers had to rest on their beds; older boys were just required to do sedentary activities. (Why you don’t want to wear out kids, by the time they go to bed at camp is beyond me?)

During one of the rest periods, a group of boys threaded a fishing line over a rafter and attached a galvanized bucket to it. When someone would walk underneath the bucket, they would lower it where it would hit the unsuspecting camper making a pop. After another camper had the prank played on them the plaintiff was enticed into the cabin where the bucket was dropped. The plaintiff suffered unspecified injuries.

The plaintiff sued the camp and the two boys involved in the prank. The two boys were dismissed from the lawsuit by the trial court. The plaintiff sued for “improper supervision and a failure to provide proper medical care after the accident.” The case went to trial and the jury found for the plaintiff on the supervision claim and for the defendant camp for the medical care claim. The camp appealed.

This decision has great quotes, which have been quoted in numerous other New York decisions, and then, to some extent, seems to be ignored. However, the court found that boys at camp have fun.

Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible. 
[constant supervision] Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which on overly protective supervision would destroy. 
A certain amount of horseplay is almost always to be found in gatherings of young people, and is generally associated with children’s camps. It is only to be discouraged when it becomes dangerous. Nothing in the incident itself or the surrounding circumstances indicates any notice to defendant that such was likely to result here.

The court did find that the standard of care for a camp was that of a reasonable prudent parent. That standard though varies with the age of the child.

The court held the jury verdict should be reversed, and the case dismissed because the court found no negligence on the part of the defendant.

So?

This case is 52 years old. It is a still relevant law in New York. However, I believe that based on other New York decisions and the standard of care for campers in New York has changed. Many decisions quote the language of this case, and then find a difference in the facts to hold the camp liable.

So Now What?

To work within the boundaries of these and other cases the best result would be to inform parents and campers of the risk. Pictures, videos, brochures and the website are a start. Have the parents and campers to acknowledge that there is horseplay when kids get together and have them acknowledge the kids get hurt.
This should be in a written document that refers to the website as the source of more information or even better information they have reviewed. An assumption of the risk form for the minors and a release for the parents should do more than just have the simple legal language of a release. Each document, or the same document, if written correctly, should identify the activities the minors will be engaging in and the possible risks for all of those activities.

When you are creating your website, don’t be afraid to show kids being unsuccessful as well as successful. Kids fall while playing sports, kids get tagged out running bases and canoes tip over throwing kids in the water. Follow the old Clint Eastwood movie; show the good and the bad, maybe the ugly.

A scrape on a camper is a good way to show parents that you have a medical team on hand. It also lets parents realize that kids are outdoors, having fun and probably getting hurt.

The more you can prove you informed the parents and the campers of the risks the greater your chances at success in keeping everyone happy and out of court.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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