The Litigation Seesaw

There are some small things that make me glad I don’t live in the USA.  Just the other day I went to a playground with my 3yo son, and we played on seesaws, crazy climbing frames, and even a flying fox.  It was a blast for both of us.

This morning I read a post about playground design in New York.  The ideas look very cool:


Developers of the Lower Manhattan project envision groups of children collaborating, for instance, loading containers with sand, hoisting them up with pulleys and then lowering them down to wagons waiting to be wheeled off to another part of the park.


However it was the rest of the article that saddened me:


The sad thing is that some of the most dangerous playground toys also induced superb play. Remember the see-saw? I used to spend hours at my Canadian cottage playing on my uncle’s massive, 12-foot-long see-saw. Seesaws were the best training in basic physics you could possibly imagine, because you could scoot up and down the seesaw to figure out where precisely you needed to sit to be able to counterbalance a lighter child. Or you could stack a bunch of smaller kids on one side and see how much bigger a kid you could lift in the air.


So true and so sad that occasional injury can destroy fun for all children.  I’d never wish injury on my own children nor anyone else’s.  However if Ollie broke his arm on a seesaw or flying fox, I wouldn’t be asking the local council to tear the playground down, nor looking for compensation.  Accidents happen.

I really can’t get my head around the mindset of litigationin the USA.  Where is the intent to injure in a seesaw?  Is it really, honestly the case that the majority of parents in the USA would sue if their child is injured in a playground accident, or is it just a visible minority?  Help me out here.  I’d really like to understand it, and understand why the mindset is so different here in New Zealand.

[tags]interesting, personal[/tags]


  1. In USA you get the justice you can afford. I’m not an expert in tort, but I know to win the plaintif has to prove 3 things (in NZ at least):

    * The defendant had a duty of care
    * The defendant breached that duty of care
    * The plaintif suffered damage as a result of that breach

    The way it works in USA (please correct me if I’m wrong):

    Plaintif: I’m suing you because I’m a victim with no self-responsibility.
    Defendant: I can’t be bothered fighting this. My insurance will pay.
    Lawyers: Yay more money for us.
    Insurance company: Sure, we’ll pay, but you premiums just trebled (Yay more money for us too)

  2. Interesting. Or is it that by providing playgrounds, the municipality has created a ‘duty of care’? Either way it’s a pretty screwy system.

  3. As I understand it, ACC in NZ is only there because we forgoe the right to sue the living pickles out of anyone/thing that causes us accidental injury. Which is a much better system imo.

    /me sponged off ACC for a good 6 months and had $$$$$ of knee surgery at their expense. Thanks ACC 😀

  4. Weird… there are seesaws in most of the (American) playgrounds we go to, and while some of the newer playgrounds are definitely on the boring, overly safe side, you can still find some good arm-breaking ones here and there (hint: play on the poorer side of town). A recent playground tour of NZ suggests the same range of options.

    There’s also some truly awesome playground design happening in the US, including accessible playgrounds that welcome kids with mobility problems, and nature-based play spaces, like these:

    Personally, I live in hope that we can persuade the very cool Bob Leathers to come and help us build a playground in our neighbourhood one day: The one they built in Santa Barbara is truly amazing, and has a built-in marble run, among other things.

    And ooh, look, he’s built one in NZ too! Wish I’d known so we could have made a detour to check it out!

  5. Oh, and the suing for damages thing is not a “mindset” so much as an unavoidable side-effect of having a crap health system. Say you’re playing on the flying fox in the US, not NZ, and your kiddo flies off the flying fox headfirst and is badly injured – you’re responsible for all medical expenses, care, equipment, etc, for the rest of his life. Better hope you’ve got a job with decent health insurance, and then better hope you never lose that job, or run up against spending limits on the insurance… fancy losing your house and savings so your child can get the necessary care? Happens all the time over here.

    That said, it does become a mindset after a while. I narrowly missed a disaster the other day, caused by the spectacularly dangerous failure of a consumer product, and my first thought (after “thank god I’m alive”) was “OK, so who could I have sued, and for how much, both to punish them for this appalling oversight, and to pay for my wheelchair?”

  6. OK, so if you have no insurance you sue to get funding for healthcare, and if you do happen to have insurance, then the insurance company pays your bills and *they* sue to recover it. And the lawyers make money in both cases.

    I understand completely now, and I am more thankful than ever that all companies pay an ACC levy on all my earnings.

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