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Summer camps held to different standard of care in negligence cases

As parents and children prepare for summer camps, Toronto critical injury lawyer Rikin Morzaria tells AdvocateDaily.com that the law holds operators to a higher standard of care.

When injuries occur to children in the care of schools, camps and other institutions entrusted by parents, Morzaria says it’s unrealistic for their staff to be held to the normal reasonableness standard when defending allegations of negligence, due to their unique environment and the risk-taking nature of childhood.

“The standard they are held to is that of a careful and prudent parent, which is higher than it would be for other organizations providing services,” says Morzaria, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP. “Often when a child is injured at school or camp it’s due to horseplay or the actions of another child. A school can’t be expected to control each impulse of every child in their care, which explains the difference.”

Often, he says a determination on the camp’s liability will come down to the circumstances and the broader context of the incident that led to the injury.

“If the people supervising children are chronically allowing something unsafe to happen, failing to enforce rules or to recognize patterns of behaviour, those are things that will go towards breaching the standard, because they mean that the children are more likely to engage in riskier behaviour,” Morzaria says.   

In one of his cases, Morzaria’s client was injured at school while playing with a group of children on a snowbank in a game that involved racing to the top of the snow pile.

“That’s not inherently the sort of activity that will cause injury, although you can see how it could,” he says.

However, Morzaria says the height of the snowbank, about six feet, and its position next to a hard pavement should have raised red flags. His client was injured when several children rolled down the hill and landed on top of him causing a severe leg fracture.    

“The way we had to establish failure by the school was by looking not just at what happened, but how often this game was played before and whether the kids were told they shouldn’t be doing it,” he explains. “As it turned out, they had been playing this game almost every recess without being told not to, even though the school policy was that those kinds of games were prohibited.

“A prudent parent would want to make sure that a game they didn’t want the children playing was stopped,” Morzaria adds.

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