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Dangerous Jungle Gyms

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Ronda Kaysen: When Ninoska Castellanos took her 2 1/2-year-old to an indoor play gym, she assumed her daughter would get to burn off a little steam. It never occurred to her that little Emma might leave the gym with a broken leg.

Jungle gym

The incident happened in June at Jumping Jelly Beans, an indoor gym in Hallandale Beach, Florida. When Emma spotted a climbing wall with other kids scaling it, she ran for it. She had climbed only a few feet when she fell to the floor and broke her leg. Doctors worry the break might have affected her growth plate, which could stunt her growth.

"I was very desperate," Castellanos told a local television station. "I was very nervous. The most that she went up was two feet."

Castellanos lobbed a lawsuit against Jumping Jelly Beans last month, claiming the gym failed to post a sign telling parents that the climbing wall, built by a Chinese manufacturer, was intended for kids aged 5 and up -- not for children as young as Emma.

"The mother was told [Emma] could climb on the wall," Castellanos' lawyer, Spencer Aronfeld, told momlogic. "I certainly think that if a facility has an activity that's designed for people of a certain age, they should warn people." Aronfeld also suspects that the padding beneath the wall was too flimsy to absorb a fall.

Jumping Jelly Beans declined to comment for this story.

Jungle-gym injuries are all too common in the United States. Last month, 9-year-old Alyssa Avila of Oklahoma was killed on the schoolyard when she was hit in the head by a piece of playground equipment called the X-Wave.

The number of kids injured on public playgrounds has doubled since 1980, according to Safe Kids USA, an advocacy group. In 2004, more than 200,000 children aged 14 and under were treated in emergency rooms for playground injuries. Falls account for 80 percent of all playground injuries.

"Most of the injuries are minor," said Dr. Andy Kienstra, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital, adding that head injuries are the most common, especially among young kids. Serious injuries are "pretty rare, but you don't even want one child to have a catastrophic event like that," he said.

There are things parents can do to keep their kids safe. Kienstra says that the biggest risk to playground safety is actually found in your kid's closet: Drawstrings on sweaters and sweatshirts pose a serious strangulation risk, and kids should never use them.

Parents can also teach their kids to play safely on the playground. They should instruct their kids not to push or shove other kids, and to use the equipment the way it was intended (that means no walking down the slides!). Also, if a jungle gym is full of big kids, keep the little ones off of it so they don't get underfoot.

When you arrive at a playground, do a cursory inspection and make sure the ground isn't grass or concrete. Grass might look soft, but it doesn't absorb falls well, and kids can get hurt. Soft materials like wood chips, mulch, peat or sand are far safer. Also pay attention to what equipment is present. Most public playgrounds post the age recommendations for their jungle gyms. Take heed.

"If you've got a 2-year-old, they probably shouldn't be climbing on something that's intended for a 5-year-old," said Dr. Sean Cahill, an associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University. "If you are going to let them climb on it, you should be right behind them to pull them off if should they get into trouble."

next: Rehab 101
47 comments so far | Post a comment now
Melissa September 2, 2010, 6:11 AM

I think asking a gym to post a sign is fine, but it’s really up to us to know our child’s abilities.

Sara September 2, 2010, 7:48 AM

And now they’ll ban jungle gyms? These lawsuits are absurd.

The play structure wasn’t dangerous. Her kid had an accident. She should have known her child’s ability and stood with her or told her no.

Katie September 2, 2010, 12:54 PM

Thank you Ninoska for ruining another fun place for kids just because you weren’t paying attention and you let your young child do something that was too advanced for her. Anyway to make a buck I guess. Just pay better attention to your kid!

XXXX September 2, 2010, 3:14 PM

Those places are a breeding ground for germs.

Carrie September 2, 2010, 4:44 PM

How about instead of blaming everyone else for your daughter’s injury, you actually take a look in the mirror and you will see who is actually responsible. My goodness without signs how do you know what is dangerous for your child. Do you have a sign by your bathtub, stove, pool, knives. Parents really need pay attention to your children and use common sense.

anita September 3, 2010, 1:35 AM

This is getting out of hand. The county in which I live just put a halt on removing swings from school playgrounds because there is a law requiring swings for any school that houses a kindergarten. Removing swings? What are kids supposed to do on the playground? Stand around and text? Children have accidents. Parents should do their best to teach them and protect them, but when something like this happens chalk it up to a learning experience for your child. You don’t sue because your child fell and got hurt. It was this woman’s responsibility to access the situation and determine if it’s safe before allowing her daughter to run off and play. I don’t immediately turn my daughter loose the second we get to the playground. I check it out because I know I am the one who needs to look out for her safety.

Marina September 3, 2010, 6:41 AM

Really? I feel sorry for this little girl and her mom who making money of her daughter’s injury. Why doesn’t she take a responsibility for not watching her child. It was 2-feet fall. How high are your chairs? She could fall from a chair at home. Do you have an appropriate protective surfacing in your kitchen? Will you take responsibility then? Lets bubblewrap our children and not let them enjoy their childhood.

Grown Up September 6, 2010, 12:18 PM

You mothers are insane. Its your job to keep your children safe. If you fail to protect them from something they are clearly too young to handle well then its your fault and you should feel guilty. But then again where were your parents when you were growing up, playing in alleys and throwing rocks. No where to be found thats right. And you turned out just fine so let kids be kids get hurt and grow up, they dont need medication or physio-analysts telling them they are different. Leave them be. Old school disciple and parenting techniques worked just fine. Proof of that is look at the manners on kids today its disgusting. You should be ashamed.

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