Green Room

Parental Responsibility vs Business

posted at 2:20 pm on April 27, 2010 by

We have a brilliant and bizarre “museum” — I’m still not sure that’s an appropriate label — here in St Louis called the City Museum. It’s sort of like an enormous ball crawl for adults. Er, grown-ups. Er, post-adolescents. You climb through mesh tubes until you’re five stories in the air, and then slide down one of several colorful metal shafts back to the ground. There are even junked-out airplanes to inspect and climb on.

If you happen to be into that sort of thing, it’s a lot of good clean fun on a Saturday night. Hard on the knees, but good exercise. During the day, it’s full of kids and their parents.

Anyway, as you might expect, they get their share of lawsuits. Some are reasonable, and some are patently frivolous (that link should make your blood boil, but the booming popularity of fraud is a whole ‘nother topic). There have been a few since I moved here, and the most recent was in January, over a 10 year old boy who fell fourteen feet and wound up with brain damage.

[Michelle] Kirk, her husband, Thomas, and three children had traveled here from their home in Lawrence, Kan., for spring break. A brochure in the hotel lobby for the City Museum intrigued her.

Within minutes of the family’s arrival at the museum, Kirk’s daughter told her mother that Gavin had fallen. Gavin was climbing a stacked metal structure when he fell onto a walkway.

Now I don’t have kids, I just go there because it’s fun. But even I can look at the thing and tell that it’s potentially dangerous, just like any climbing structure. Do you let your kid go running off alone in a place like that, where you can’t even yell at them if they’re doing something dumb? It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, but the mother wasn’t even watching her kids — she had to be told by the daughter that he’d fallen.

There have been various broken legs and concussions, which you’d see at any playground, so those sound realistic to me. But another lawsuit came after an 18 month old baby fell between some cracks and fractured her skull.

What’s wrong with that sentence? An 18 month old?! In this?! What, they couldn’t just leave her in the car with a bottle of Jack?

So where should the line be drawn? Where does a parent’s responsibility end, and when does it become a requirement of the business? Since the display is big enough for most adults, should kids have to be accompanied inside with their parents? And should the museum require that tiny kids stick to the other exhibits, which include an aquarium, antique toys, and an art creation section — or is that a part of parental responsibility too? Am I being too hard on these parents, or does it sound wrong to you too?

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I can tell you don’t have kids.

The stories you told don’t include enough information to determine whether or not the parents were at fault. Maybe it was. Kids do get away or get hurt, though, even when you’re doing your absolute best.

Daggett on April 27, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Well, but, Daggett, there’s s difference between taking a blame-laying attitude toward parents, and accepting that everything that goes wrong at a public site must merit a lawsuit.

I don’t accept the latter. That doesn’t mean I automatically do the former. Kids are hard to keep track of, but that doesn’t mean that everything that happens to them should be adjusted by lawsuit.

I haven’t been to St. Louis’ City Museum either, so I don’t know how clearly the safety signs and warnings are posted, or if there are employees or volunteers on hand supervising the exhibits people can climb on. If there aren’t, basic prudence suggests there should be. In a better world that wouldn’t be because of the fear of lawsuits, but because no one wants children (or adults, for that matter) to fall 14 feet and suffer brain damage.

I’ll say this, though. If the City Museum had to close these exhibits, which do sound like a lot of fun, because American adults just couldn’t handle the freedom to climb on them, I would completely agree with anyone who says that’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad commentary on what we’ve sunk to as a people.

J.E. Dyer on April 27, 2010 at 2:59 PM

The stories you told don’t include enough information to determine whether or not the parents were at fault. Maybe it was. Kids do get away or get hurt, though, even when you’re doing your absolute best.

Daggett on April 27, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Who else has responsibility for their 18 month old??

Sam Adams on April 27, 2010 at 3:27 PM

Who else has responsibility for their 18 month old??

Sam Adams on April 27, 2010 at 3:27 PM

The parents, of course. But there are situations where the unexpected happens and it really is the fault of the construction of the surroundings. If my 18 month old is crawling around in a play-tunnel designed for 18 month olds, and he/she stabs his hand on a nail that’s not supposed to be there — or falls through a crack that’s not supposed to be there, etc., that’s the fault of the business.

Things get even crazier when you’re a single parent, you have multiple kids and you’re in a crowded, noisy, environment. One of your kids suddenly has an “emergency” while the other is already 3 yards ahead of you and can’t hear you calling him/her back. It’s still your responsibility, but things can go wrong even if you’re doing your best.

Daggett on April 27, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Just to qualify — that second example doesn’t men the business is responsible. But it also doesn’t mean that you might as well have left the kid in the car with a bottle of Jack. I can think of a half dozen scenarios where the parent had reason to assume the 18 month old was in good hands… and I can think of dozens of scenarios where the parent was just an irresponsible idiot. Unfortunately, I can’t tell which from the story.

Daggett on April 27, 2010 at 4:05 PM

I’m on the parental (and personal) responsibility side… I’m currently following a lawsuit where 10 parent volunteers are being sued for personal injury of a 11th volunteer’s child. The 11th person’s child caused the accident (for which no one blames her… it was an accident); however her parent is suing the other parents for not preventing her child from causing the accident (which occurred in a split second of inattention by the child).

And where was the 6th volunteer when her child caused the accident…. in the alley taking a “smoke break” and complaining that parents were required to be present.

When asked why she is suing… she claims her attorney has told her that everyone has insurance and it’s not a big deal… forget about the thousands the volunteers are paying out of their pockets for attorneys and other legal fees…. 2 families have had their older children leave college because of the costs…. another family will most likely lose their business. That’s outside of the stress it has caused the families or the loss of a very hard working non-profit volunteer organization in the community.

2nd Ammendment Mother on April 27, 2010 at 4:26 PM

Yikes!!!
More defending the parents than holding them responsible for their children. Look at the public schools most parents sent their children off to in the morning. The reading lists, the militants union organizers (principles), the ideologue brain-washers (teachers). Having a child fall a few stories is nothing compared to that.

frizzbee on April 27, 2010 at 7:15 PM

I understand that kids get away sometimes– my son has tried to, as well– but no, you can’t use that as an excuse for an 18 month old not being watched by their parents. There have been times when I let my son play independantly and he got hurt, but I was watching, and I made the choice to let him play. A child that runs can trip, a child that climbs a jungle gym can hit their noggin; that’s not “poop happens”, that’s a calculated risk that parents have to be aware of. Besides, even if the “poop happens” excuse is going to be used, wouldn’t that be a reason to prevent one from suing, rather than being a motivator to?

If the parents are claiming that they can’t be held responsible for their child’s safety every moment (which is a ridiculous claim, in my not-so-humble opinion), wouldn’t it stand to reason that the owner/builder of a given structure cannot be held responsible for any potential “flaws” that could cause injury?

If your child gets hurt, it isn’t necessarily your fault, but watching them– and determining if the risk of injury associated with where and how they play– is your responsibility.

RachDubya on April 28, 2010 at 11:50 AM