Author: Ashley T. Davis, Esquire, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
The number of children who are injured in bounce houses is on the rise. According to a recent study, bounce house-related injuries jumped 1,500% between 1995 and 2010. In 2010, there were 31 children treated in emergency departments every day – about one child every 45 minutes.
The study found that nearly 62,159 children were treated in emergency rooms throughout the United States for bounce house-related injuries from 1995 to 2010. More than half of these injuries (55%) occurred between 2005 and 2010. In the last two years of the study (2008 to 2010), the rate of injuries more than doubled. More than half of the children were in the 6- to 12-year-old age group. More than a third were under the age of 5.
Bounce House Injuries
The most commonly reported injuries were injuries to the arm and leg. The youngest children, those under 5, were more likely to have fractures. Teenagers were more likely to have sprains and strains. Nearly 1 in 5 children, or 18.5%, had head and neck injuries. Some children had bumps, bruises or bloody noses. Others were severely injured when the braces on their teeth got caught on the webbing of the bounce house. More than 4,500 children were treated for concussions and closed head injuries.
It is important to note that these statistics only include children who were treated in emergency rooms. Children who were not treated in emergency rooms, or who were treated at home, were not included in the study.
Bounce Houses and Liability Waivers
In many cases, parents are required to sign a liability waiver before their children are permitted to play on a bounce house. These types of liability waivers are called “prospective liability waivers,” and they typically force parents to agree on behalf of themselves and their children that bounce houses are dangerous; that individuals who play on bouncers can suffer personal injury or death; and that the parents and their children are knowingly assuming the risk of injury by playing on the bouncer. Parents and their children must agree that they will not sue the bounce house owner or its employees for any bounce house injuries, and that they will indemnify the bounce house owner and its employees for any defense costs or expenses arising from any legal claims or lawsuits that are filed as a result of any bounce house injuries. In Virginia, one popular bounce house company goes so far as to include this liability waiver on its party invitations.
Although prospective liability waivers have been upheld in other states, it is important to know that prospective liability waivers are not enforceable in Virginia. The Supreme Court of Virginia has consistently declared that these types of liability waivers are invalid because they are contrary to public policy.  Therefore, although parents may be required to sign them in order for their children to play on the bouncer, children and their parents are not prohibited from filing a lawsuit for bounce house-related injuries.
Insurance and Bounce Houses
Unfortunately, many insurance companies do not insure bounce houses and list them as an “exclusion” in the liability policy. Before hosting a party or event with a bounce house, you should review your liability policy to be sure that it covers injuries arising from bounce houses. If bounce houses are excluded from your policy, you might be able to purchase “special events coverage” to cover the event. Due to the risk involved, these policies typically cost $1,000 (or more). Although that is a significant amount of money, it is substantially less than the medical bills or legal costs that could result if anyone is injured.
You should also require the bounce house rental company to produce their certificate of insurance in order to prove that they have adequate insurance coverage. In addition, you can ask them to include you as an “additional insured” on their policy for the event. If the company is unable to provide a certificate of insurance, this probably means that they do not have insurance. If they do not have insurance coverage, you should strongly consider renting the bouncer from a different company.
In Virginia, children who are 7 years of age and younger do not have the legal capacity to understand the perils and dangers of their actions. There is a legal presumption that children who are between the ages of 7 and 14 also do not have legal capacity; however, this presumption can be overcome with evidence that the child knew and understood the peril. The legal significance of this doctrine is that, in most cases, children under the age of 14 cannot be held responsible for their own injuries. Therefore, they might be entitled to compensation if they are injured while they are in or on a bounce house. On the other hand, if your child is injured by another child who is under the age of 14, the other child’s youth and inexperience might prevent them from being legally responsible for your child’s injuries.
How To Properly Setup a Bounce House
If you are planning to use the bounce house outdoors, the bouncer should be placed on a flat surface. It is important to remove all rocks, sticks or objects such as sprinkler systems sticking up from the ground before setting up the bouncer. The bouncer should have plenty of open space on all sides, and should be placed away from tree branches and power lines. If the bouncer is to be set up on a hard surface, a soft surface should be installed around the entrance/exit to the bouncer.
Wind is an inflatable’s worst enemy, and can cause it to become very dangerous. There have been news reports of bounce houses that have been blown as high as 20 feet into the air with the children still inside, resulting in serious injuries. Most manufacturers recommend removing children from bounce houses and/or deflating them when winds are 20 to 25 miles per hour or higher. If you are like most people, and do not carry a wind gauge with you, use common sense. One industry professional advises that if your “pants are flapping like a flag,” you should direct children to leave the bounce house until the wind dies down.
If you are planning to use the bounce house indoors, it is important to place the bouncer away from walls and to make sure that the ceiling is several feet (or more) above the top of the bouncer. If the bouncer will be set up in a room with hard floors, you should place a soft surface around the entrance/exit to the bouncer.
Installation Personnel and Safety Inspections
If you choose to rent a bounce house or attend an event where bounce houses are present, you should ensure that the bounce house has been installed by qualified personnel. Serious injuries can result if untrained or poorly trained workers do not set up the bouncer properly.
Virginia law requires all bouncers to be inspected at least once per year. The local building department issues a certificate of inspection certifying that the bouncer was inspected. Before renting a bouncer, it is not a bad idea to confirm that the company has a valid certificate of inspection.
Safety and Supervision of a Bounce House
It is also very important to ensure that the bounce house is being supervised by responsible (and preferably trained) personnel while the bounce house is in use. Just as you would not go on a roller coaster that does not have an attendant or let young children go into a swimming pool without supervision, you should not let children enter a bounce house that is not properly attended.
Virginia law requires the bounce house operator to be at least 16 years old. The bounce house should be attended at all times, and the bounce house operator cannot be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol that would affect the operator’s judgment or ability to ensure the children’s safety.
The safest way to use a bouncer is to have only one child on it at a time. Since that is not always possible (and is not nearly as fun), the bounce house supervisor should make sure that children bouncing together are approximately the same age and size.
The bounce house operator should also make sure that the number of children bouncing at any one time does not exceed the maximum occupancy limits of the bouncer. The maximum occupancy limits are usually stitched onto a label on the outside of the bouncer.
Children should be encouraged to bounce away from the walls of the bouncer, and should not be permitted to bounce near the entrance/exit, where they can fall out.
Children should be required to use the inflatable properly, in accordance with its design. For example, the bounce house operator should make sure that children are bouncing on their feet (not their backs). If there is a slide, children should be required to go down feet-first, not head-first. Using the equipment properly can help prevent injuries.
To reduce the risk of injury, children should be directed to remove their shoes, eyeglasses and jewelry, and to remove all sharp objects from their pockets, before entering the bouncer.
Bounce houses are not babysitters. Although it might be tempting for parents to walk away from bounce houses, thinking that their children are safely confined in a soft space, nothing could be further from the truth. Bounce house supervisors and parents should work together to make sure that children are bouncing safely, and that they are not rough-housing, doing flips or somersaults, or landing on other children.
Bounce House Injuries are Not Limited to Children
It is important to note that bounce house-related injuries are not limited to children. Unfortunately, many adults have suffered serious and catastrophic bounce house injuries, as well.
Allen & Allen is committed to representing people who have been injured by or in bounce houses, and has experience handling these types of claims. If you or someone that you know has suffered a bounce house injury, call us for a free consultation at 866-388-1307
About The Author: Ashley Davis is an attorney at Allen & Allen. Her role enables her to serve as a valuable resource to a team of 30 trial attorneys. She has more than ten years of legal experience and currently serves as the Blog Editor for the firm.