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EXCLUSIVE: Dangerous Fast Food Playgrounds

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The bright, welcoming playground at a fast food restaurant is a magnet for kids and a draw for parents. But behind the colorful façade of the child-friendly wonderland lurks a potential danger zone. Momlogic has learned a Burger King franchise in Southern California has reached a $20 million, out-of-court settlement with a child who was severely injured in one of their playgrounds.

dangerous burger king playground

In August of 2005, then 8-year-old Jacob Buckett, his father and 3-year-old sister went to lunch at a Burger King in Temecula, Calif. In a matter of seconds, Jacob climbed up the horizontal support poles of the play structure and suddenly lost his grip. He came crashing down, cracking his head on the tile floor. His father Kevin recalls that the horrific noise sounded "as if you took a bowling ball and dropped it about ten feet on the floor." Jacob suffered a traumatic brain injury which put him in a coma for two months, in the hospital for six months and has left him with permanent, lifelong impairments.

The Buckett family claims the franchise owner and its parent company Burger King knew the jungle gym was dangerous but never bothered to fix the problem. They argued the playground had significant safety risks such as a lack of "no-climb netting" around the structural poles and not enough floor padding. They say the restaurant owner knew about the potential hazards because of prior accidents.

In addition, they said the restaurant's franchise owner, The Breckenridge Group, failed to safeguard the poles that were used by children daily as monkey bars. The restaurant never posted warning signs and refused to retrofit the structure. Even after Jacob's near-death experience, the playground remained unchanged... three years later.

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On his behalf, Jacob's parents sued the franchise owner and parent company, arguing Burger King was liable under the principles of "ostensible agency." That means parents reasonably relied on the franchisor and its specific restaurant branding to ensure a safe product. The family's attorney, Christopher Aitken, said, "Most families, like the Bucketts, do not come into fast food restaurants with any playground safety expertise. They rely on the restaurant, through their branding and safety programs, to ensure a safe product for their children to play," Burger King ultimately settled with the Bucketts for $20 million.

These commercial structures, known as "soft-contained playgrounds," like those at Burger King and other fast food restaurants, are not necessarily more dangerous than any public playground. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ERs treat more than 200,000 children every year for playground-related injuries.

Today, Jacob Buckett is 12 years old, with the maturity level of a child half his age. The brain damage left him with partial paralysis and severe emotional and cognitive problems. He gets frustrated easily and often has temper tantrums. "Before the accident, he would talk all the time about getting married and having children," said his mother, Julie, who now wonders, "Will he ever have the mental ability to even take care of himself?"

Jacob's condition has devastated his family -- especially his father, Kevin, who witnessed the accident. "There are times when it's just so overwhelming, the weight is just too much to bear." The family hopes shedding light on this issue will put the fast food restaurant industry on notice. "We are pleased to see that after the Buckett incident, the fast food chain finally started implementing an inspection system for such playgrounds to make sure they are safe for families," said Aitken.

The multi-million dollar settlement will pay for Jacob's enormous medical bills, 24-hour attendant care and ongoing rehabilitation therapies.

Major fast food chains like Burger King, McDonald's and Chuck E. Cheese's all have playgrounds.

The enticing play zones lure children while restaurants rake in billions of dollars in additional profit. But children could pay the ultimate price if they're not careful playing at some of these playgrounds.

Fast food restaurants argue they're not responsible for safety because they hire independent companies to build the play structures, despite spending big money to market and brand the equipment. In a written statement to momlogic, Burger King spokeswoman Denise Wilson wrote: "Burger King Corp. has stringent playground safety and cleanliness procedures for all its BURGER KING® restaurants. An independent, third party company annually inspects playgrounds at both company and franchised restaurants."

The Bucketts' attorney argued Burger King provided no oversight or inspections to ensure its franchisee restaurants followed playground safety standards. "The fast food chains certainly stand to profit for the rise of sales that such playgrounds provide. It is this lack of third party safety inspections, or oversight, that can cause major injuries such that befell young Jacob Buckett," said Aitken.

Dangerous Playgrounds

Burger King insists its restaurants complied with the national standards set by the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) for soft-contained playgrounds and use "only approved playground manufacturers can provide equipment and repairs to BURGER KING® restaurants."

In addition, the fast food giant blamed Jacob's father for not properly supervising his child on the playground. The Bucketts' attorney proved his point with a video surveillance tape that showed children misusing the playground on a regular basis.

Each restaurant chain is responsible for self-policing its playground safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a list of set guidelines and regulations, but there isn't enough staff to enforce the rules.

"The government doesn't seem to pay as much attention to children as they do adults," said Donna J. Thompson, Ph.D., Executive Director for the National Program for Playground Safety. "If something is going to kill or badly injure a child, the inspector should tell the owner and they should shut the place down until it's fixed." A restaurant's franchise owner is the one responsible for hiring an outside inspector to periodically check the equipment.

The CPSC has taken action against fast food restaurants that violate safety codes. In 1999, the agency fined McDonald's $4 million in an effort to improve reporting and the structural integrity of its soft playgrounds. "CPSC is empowered to act when there's a violation of a voluntary standard. The agency has the ability to investigate when there is an incident brought to our attention," said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. But in the case of Jacob Buckett, the restaurant did not have an inspection system to detect safety issues and any effort to upgrade the playground fell through the cracks.

Dangerous Playgrounds

The playgrounds at fast food restaurants are often as much as a draw for kids as the french fries and cheeseburgers.

While the padded structures may seem like the perfect place to let your child play, these parks can pose a serious risk of injury and even death. Parents may assume these soft-contained playlands are safe and that the restaurant assumes responsibility if a child is hurt. But this is not always the case.

Bottom line: don't expect anyone to be watching your kids. "If there are signs indicating the restaurant is not responsible for injuries, then it's up to the adults to supervise the kids," said Donna J. Thompson, Ph.D., the Executive Director for the National Program for Playground Safety.

Jake's dad Kevin tells momlogic, "No words at this time could adequately convey our thoughts. Though we are concerned with playground safety, our primary concern is for Jake's recovery and the stability of our family. This settlement is merely the end of the beginning of a very long marathon. It has been three and a half years since Jake's injury and the fight for his future has really just begun. Though we are bone-weary from this struggle, our faith in God carries us and we will not stop until every last stone has been turned over. Jake's resources and the love and support of many will be used to that end. Though set back by his injury, Jake touches everyone he meets with his faith, his strength, his compassion and his irrepressible joy. Those qualities were there before and are still there today

We pray for the day when Jake can enjoy the quality of life that many take for granted, that he will become independent, the he will meet the girl of his dreams and raise a family of his own. We also pray for his mom and sisters, whose hearts, though broken by this tragedy, will again rise from the ashes so they can again see the light of day and experience the joy they so richly deserve. Finally, we pray for those who struggles mirror ours. There are many thousands in the same boat who need hope, who want a future. For Jake's sake and theirs, we hope it happens."

dangerous burger king playground

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25 comments so far | Post a comment now
Crystal March 26, 2009, 1:13 PM

It’s not Burger Kings fault the kid fell. Sometimes stuff happens…but now we can all be sure that with the new inspections, expensive “safe equipment”, round the clock supervision, etc. that the fast food “joints” will be utilizing to protect against law suits - we won’t be able to afford a cheese burger for our kids!

Chris March 26, 2009, 1:20 PM

When does a parent have to take responsibility for not supervising their kids? When your kid is doing something they should not be doing (example: climbing and hanging from the playground structural supports), you as a parent need to take control of the situation. The boy’s father is at fault, not Burger King.

Anne March 26, 2009, 1:25 PM

I think that the problem isn’t with the play areas in Burger King and McDonalds on the whole but with the parents that don’t properly supervise their children while playing.

You, the parent, are supposed to be monitoring your children while they play. It is not a place to just park your kids, zone out with a book, chat with your buddies and neglect to notice that your kid is climbing a pole that he or she should not be climbing.

Kids do things that they shouldn’t until they have been trained and become mature enough to recognize a poor choice.

Kids get hurt all the time, it is part of the learning process, when they get hurt badly we, as parents, get upset and hurt for our children.

Blaming Burger King or McDonald’s is not the solution to your child’s behavioral choices but I guess if you are looking to make a buck to pay medical expenses well then you will probably sue.

As for this poor child that hurt himself badly at that Burger King, I am sorry both for him and his parents.

P.S. I do not and have never had any affiliation with either of these two franchises or any like them. I have a sister that is handicapped mentally due to an injury I understand the pain of watching a child never live to their original potential.

It seems that a lot of humans are always looking for someone else to blame for their problems, pain, choices.

Sometimes others are to blame but mostly it is ourselves, for not doing what we should have done in the first place and then regret our choice(s) but can’t face ourselves so point to others.

This is life.

Annie Onamus March 26, 2009, 1:30 PM

Seriously, a site called momlogic shouldn’t be a proponent of the “precious little snowflake” mentality. Why is it someone else’s responsibility to protect your children? Is it sad that this child was damaged? Yes. Is is the rest of the world’s job to modify themselves so that you don’t have to bother teaching your child proper behavior? No.

Ida Jimenez March 26, 2009, 1:31 PM

Yes, stuff happens. How can you say it wasn’t Burger King’s fault when the story specified in that they were notified that the playground was a safety hazard, due to lack of cushioning? I’m sure if that were anyone’s child, whether he/she was 2 or 10, a safety hazard is a safety hazard. If you were to go into a fast food restaurant that just happened to be in route to your destination, you aren’t going to know if there was a previous incident or if the management had safety issues in the past, unless it is posted. Hence the signs that MUST be posted, to let kids and parents alike, know that you MUST be careful in zones that they have had problems with or simply just close off the area. OR BETTER YET, SHUT THE ENTIRE DARN THING DOWN! Accidents happen anywhere and everywhere everyday, but if I were to walk in a playground with my kids, or a store, or anywhere for that matter, and there was a posted sign saying “PLEASE BEWARE OF POTENTIAL DANGER IN AREAS WITHOUT FLOOR CUSHIONING” Rather than simply saying “KIDS MUST BE SUPERVISED AT ALL TIMES”, then parents would be a little more aware. I supervise my kids 24/7, which doesn’t say they still can’t fall and break a bone or twist an ankle. We are ultimately responsible. But in public, we should be able to trust that equipment placed specifically for children, should be 110% made safe.

Jacob March 26, 2009, 1:33 PM

Yep, it’s all the parents’ fault. Easy to say until it’s your kid that is permanently disabled from a simple accident while playing, incurring medical bills in the hundreds of thouseand of dollars that YOU have to pay. And when that does happen, and the bank forecloses on your house because you can’t pay those bills, and you lose your job because you have to provide 24 care for your disabled child, you’ll be the one banging on some attorney’s door (like mine) demanding that SOMEBODY MUST PAY!!!!

troy March 26, 2009, 1:46 PM

This is why kids sit inside and play video games all day, can’t go outside and play because they might get hurt! ALL PLAYGROUNDS have potential to be dangerous, all outside activities have the potential to be dangerous. Not anyone’s fault. This is almost as bad as taking Buger King to court for making people fat. It’s not anyone’s fault this accident sometimes, bad things just happen, do you stop driving your car, because bad things can definetly happen there. The kid fell and got hurt, it is a terrible thing, but not anyone’s fault. Are you going to make him keep his feet on the ground for the rest of his life, because something bad MIGHT happen??

Michael March 26, 2009, 2:08 PM

Might as well sue the city whenever a child gets run over because they didn’t install guard rails to prevent kids from running out in the streets. The problem you see today is that the parents don’t train or watch their kids. That is why the economy is out of control because of this sue happy blame everybody but yourself world!

Cynthia March 26, 2009, 3:07 PM

I cannot believe that this parent was awarded money. Now I could understand if Burger King was willing to give the family money out of the goodness of their hearts, but they are not at fault. I do not even care if they were notified of a safety risk involved with the playground. If my child was climbing 8 feet off the ground on a pole over a concrete floor, I would ddefinitely be under them getting them down, and they would not be allowed to play any more that day. I cannot believe that this Dad sat there and watched his son do this and did not say a thing. I am a teacher, and I am ashamed of how many parents do not care about their children enough to discipline them or teach them right from wrong. I would much rather be dirt poor and have a healthy child, than be rich with a child with a brain injury. I am just so astonished I cannot believe it. And the mother who said BK was at fault because things were supposedly “dangerous”- there is danger EVERYWHERE. It is not the job of a restaurant to put a sign up saying, “Pedestrians, please use care when walking across parking lot. Moving cars approaching” to prevent from being sued because someone did not look when walking. I almost hit a teenager last weekend because he was talking on his cell phone and walked in front of my car from between two SUV’s in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Even though it would not have been my fault, I would have felt horrible if I had hit him, and he would have been scarred for life. Is ignorance really worth it? Parents are responsible for teaching their children how to identify potential hazards in life and to avoid them. If anything, this father should be investigated by child protective services for neglect. Neglecting to stop preventable harm to his child. This is not even as much an accident as a parent not doing his job and parenting.

Susan March 26, 2009, 3:23 PM

I say we just wrap our kids in bubble wrap, keep them tied to their beds, and not expose them to any hazards like climbing trees, walking in creek beds barefoot or swinging from tree limbs over the lake on hemp ropes 50 years old. We didn’t have any fun doing these things anyway, did we?!? This was an unfortunate, very sad and heart wrenching accident, but let’s say if there had been safety netting, and the child had caught his foot in the netting and fell as a result, yet another lawsuit. This country is lawsuit drunk. We have to have another…and another..and yet another. I’m sorry, but the ultimate responsibility to lie somewhere. These places are places to eat, not babysitters. It’s play at your own risk as far as I’m concerned. Sorry.

Kyle March 26, 2009, 3:34 PM

Awful to hear about a story like this, but it really is the parents responsibility to look after their child. This settlement is awarding bad parenting. If your kid is doing something that can clearly cause alot of harm, you stop them from doing it. If the enviroment in which your child is playing doesnt look safe, dont let them play there. Simple concept for alot of parents, but quite hard for some to figure out apparently.

Karla C. March 26, 2009, 3:54 PM

I can not believe that you would blame the facility for the accidents that happen there. If the equipment actually came crashing down, that’s one thing, but if the father was there to witness the accident, why was he allowing the child to climb on that part of the playground? You aren’t supposed to use the supports to climb on and that is posted at EVERY playland I have ever allowed my children to play on. It shouldn’t be the facility’s responsiblity when the patrons are mis-using the equipment. Pay attention to your kids and you can avoid a lot of tragedies, it is very unfair to place the blame elsewhere when it lies with you.

Sue March 26, 2009, 3:55 PM

I agree that it’s terrible that this poor child was injured, but my goodness, it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault. It’s also terrible that the medical bills associated with such an injury could potentially bankrupt a family. But it is not BK’s responsibility to shoulder the responsibiity of these medical bills just because they have better insurance than the family does. No wonder so many companies are struggling today.

TRACY March 26, 2009, 4:15 PM

Once again, a huge lawsuit because a parent was not properly supervising their child. And for the father not to correct the child as he watched him climb that high on that part of the structure was WRONG. If they had posted a sign stating not to climb on the outside of the structure I’m sure an 5,6,7 or 8 yr old would really take the time to READ the sign. And if they were to put netting on it a kid would think it a net to climb not a stay out zone. I’m very sorry that this child was hurt and has to live this way, but for a mother to say that her 8 yr old boy would talk about “marriage and a family”???? Seems like tugging at heart strings. Another structure that could be lost for thousands of children for a few that get hurt.

Carrie March 26, 2009, 4:22 PM

Wow I am sad to see so many negative comments blaming that child’s father. He was watching his son and part of his trauma was the image he has of his son falling and not being able to stop him. Of course accidents happen and falling from playground equipment is not something anyone can prevent from happening. But the safety issue here is the lack of proper floor cushioning in the event of a fall and neither Burger King the franchisor nor the restaurant franchisee owner were willing to ensure that this was corrected. And lets not forget to mention the third party inspections they boast of having—that is either a complete fabrication or a waste of money. If that playground was inspected it wouldn’t have passed. According to the CPSC, the safety requirement for public playground equipment is one inch of soft surface for every one foot in equipment height in order to prevent serious head trauma and death. But do all parents know this? Probably not. And even if they do, how does one tell just how deep the soft surface is? If it was your child who was seriously injured on a equipment deemed appropiate for his/her age right in your presence while you were watching them, you’d sue for medical costs too. It is sad to know that if you cannot count on the owners/maintainers/constructors of these playgrounds, the only alternative is to not let your children play on them.

Dr. Smith March 26, 2009, 4:32 PM

I cannot find a link on here to contact the author. I am a doctor of chiropractic, specializing in Palmer Upper Cervical Specific. Regardless of who’s fault the injury is, it is quite probable that this child continues to suffer from cord pressure at the brain stem as well as from his initial brain concussion.
I live in SoCal and would treat this child for no charge if his parents were interested in the possibility of some improvement.
If anyone would like to forward this to the author or the child’s family, I would be glad to help.
Dr. Smith

Kaitlyn March 26, 2009, 5:00 PM

Dr. Smith here is the website for Jacob Buckett. I just went on it today so im not sure how often the family uses it anymore. And everyone on here should take a good look in the mirror. Are you all the “perfect” parents?? Your saying your child has never left your side and done something that could have potentially caused danger to them. The point of the new guidelines and regulations is to protect future children. And I dont see how anyone could see any harm in protecting a child. In reality if there had been safety nets up that day or even padding that had extended out farther then this tragedy wouldnt have happened. And the irony of Burger King not correcting the playground equipment even after Jacobs incident!! They are the ones responsible for this.

connie March 26, 2009, 6:40 PM

1) tragic
2) not BK’s liability
3) it is parent’s liability

4) 20 million is waaaay too high
5) a death or jury would not be that high amount
6) why on earth do they need a sign to avoid obvious dangerous actions
7) this child was most likely autistic, I would like to see his prior school records

connie March 26, 2009, 6:47 PM

DR Smith the Chiro is correct, but they can afford to pay in their 20 million settlement.
this child appears autitic in his prior (far away look) pictures & the climbing on the outside of PG is a sign of ASD.

I think the parents are to blame, no need for a “warning sign” common i doubt the kid could read

Anna March 26, 2009, 6:55 PM

Wow. I can’t believe how many people are blaming the victims and letting the owner of the facility off the hook. The key point here is that Burger King had plenty of warning that the playground was dangerous, but didn’t take simple, reasonable steps to make it safe for children. I don’t think it’s irresponsible for parents to expect that public, commercial play areas meet basic safety standards. But it’s a good wake-up call to learn that they don’t.

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