Girl’s accident on playground not Saanich’s fault, court rules

A “most unfortunate accident” in 2009 that left a then-11-year-old girl injured was not the fault of the District of Saanich, a B.C. Supreme Court ruling says.

In lawsuit filed by the girl and her guardian, the district was accused of being liable for what happened.

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Justice Robin Baird said it was not established in court that Saanich employees exposed the girl to “an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm, or failed to adequately supervise the innocent playground activities in which she was engaged with other blameless children on the occasion in question.”

The girl was attending a summer day-camp at Gordon Head Middle School featuring painting, drawing and drama when she fell from playground equipment and hit her head.

She was one of about 16 children at the camp, which was held largely indoors, and was engaged in the occasional outdoor play that was part of the routine.

“I strongly sympathize with the plaintiff and her family,” Baird wrote in his reasons for judgment. “What little I was told about the consequences of this accident suggested that the plaintiff’s injuries were not trivial.”

The girl was taking part in a game called grounders with other children when the incident occurred. Grounders is a version of tag in which the person who is “it” is on the ground and tries to tag others while they are on playground equipment. The person who is “it” has the option of climbing on the equipment, too, but his or her eyes must be closed.

The injured girl did not have her eyes closed when she fell. Baird noted that the girl was not pushed or touched, but was moving backward from the person who was “it” and lost her footing.

A camp worker was supervising the playground activity.

It was argued in the case that grounders is “an inherently unsafe activity” that ought not to be allowed, and that it had been previously banned from the school the girl attended. Saanich countered that it was a common game on municipal playgrounds and had caused no previous accidents.

Evidence from the municipality showed that in more than 11,000 days of summer activity for youth in Saanich from 2007 to 2013, the only injuries were the one that led to the court case and a handful of incidents at a skateboard park.

Baird rejected the argument that grounders was the sort of activity that needed parental consent or approval in advance.

“There is no doubt that games like grounders involve a small degree of risk, as do all children’s outdoor activities involving running, jumping, climbing, tagging, chasing, dodging, feinting and so on,” he wrote.

“But judging the matter by the objective measure of the reasonably careful and prudent parent, I conclude that the risk of harm inherent in such games is sufficiently remote that to permit children to play them is not unreasonable.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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