The Supreme Court of Montana ruled that a mother’s lawsuit may proceed against the city government over an injury her daughter suffered on a public playground. The mother, suing on behalf of her minor daughter, argued that the city breached a duty to maintain safe premises by failing to provide material of a safe enough depth to protect children from injury during falls. The ruling in Gatlin-Johnson v. City of Miles City, No. D.A. 12-0129, slip op. (Mont., Dec. 21, 2012) overturned a lower court’s order dismissing the lawsuit after finding that the city did not owe a duty of care to the injured child.
Tiffany Gatlin took her eight year-old daughter, Alyssa Gatlin-Johnson, to Riverside Park in Miles City, Montana in July 2002. The city owned and operated the park, and it designed a playground area there and installed and maintained playground equipment. Alyssa fell from a slide and suffered a serious head injury. The previous year, Gatlin discovered, the city had conducted a review of maintenance and safety in its park system. A review committee recommended surface protection around the playground equipment as a means of preventing injuries. Additionally, the city’s insurer recommended establishing “fall zones” underneath playground equipment, based on guidelines promulgated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. These fall zones would have surfacing designed to minimize injuries by providing surface material to cushion falling children. At the time of the accident, the city was using bark chips in the fall zone of the slide.