Playground Fall Incident - Expert Investigation

In this case, a seven-year-old boy suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell from a piece of playground equipment at a shopping mall. Robson Forensic was retained to investigate the incident to determine if conditions at the playground were dangerous in a manner that caused the injury.


Download the entire redacted report in the “Details” section of this page.

Names and locations have been changed in this report.


On May 23, 2005, first grader Jared Neff was playing at ―tot-park playground at the Community Park, borough of Macungie, Lehigh County, PA. Jared fell from an overhead ladder and struck the protective surface. After he rose, he collapsed backwards and lost consciousness. It was determined he had received a concussion and suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of his fall.

Robson Forensic, Inc. was requested to determine if conditions at the Community Park were dangerous in a manner that caused Jared‘s injury.


1. Site Conditions

Community Park is a 90 acre facility at 535 Highland Road, Macungie, PA. The Park includes pavilions, sports fields, picnic areas, a fishing pond and three public playground areas referred to as ―tot parks. This incident occurred at the north-most of the three playgrounds referred to as the ―tot-park building tot park.

This playground consists of a single composite play structure assembled from components manufactured by the JJA Thomas Company. The structure includes slides, platforms, a clatter bridge and upper body equipment including overhead ladders and overhead rings. The equipment was designed to be suitable for use by 5 year old to 12 year old children.

Jared was injured when he fell from the overhead triangle ring ladder which is the last equipment component on the north end of the structure. That ladder consists of a series of rigid triangular rings suspended 18” below a serpentine overhead tube. The rings are 1.32” round stock bent into 1-11” wide triangles with a 13” wide gripping surface. Parallel rings are spaced 10 ½” apart. Angled transition rings are 14” center to center. Access to the ladder from the structure on the south end is from a platform 48” lower than the rings. There is no platform or climbing access point at the north end. Jared fell near the middle of the ladder.

The playground was constructed with a loose-fill protective surface. The loose fill material was engineered wood fiber, applied over a fabric membrane atop a stone drainage base. I measured the height of the ladder‘s ring grips above the membrane to be 7‘-5” and the height of the overhead tube above the membrane to be 8”-11”.

Ben Smith was the Borough of Macungie‘s engineer and director of public works while the Park was developed. According to Smith, the protective surface was originally specified to be ―Fibar engineered wood fibers; however no documents have been produced to establish whether that manufacturer or an acceptable alternate was actually used.

When Jared fell, the loose fill was missing and thin to the degree that in some places, the membrane was exposed and the stone base was visible. The thickness of fill where he fell was between 0” and 2”.

2. Jared‘s Injury

Jared was a 6 1/2 year old first grader who was a little less than 4‘ tall. On May 23, 2005, his mother Jane took him and his two brothers to the tot park playground after school. The weather was cloudy and dry.

Jared played without incident for about half an hour before he fell. He was attempting to traverse the overhead ring ladder when he lost his grip about midway across and fell to the surface below. He initially landed in a sitting position (KM 43, 45), got up and then lost consciousness, falling backwards (KM 56, 105). He was taken from the Park by helicopter. It was determined that he had suffered traumatic brain injury and a grade III concussion (KM 105).

Jane subsequently returned to the park and documented conditions by measurement and photography. There was barely any thickness of resilient surfacing material under the triangle rings. Areas of landscaping fabric were exposed over the stone base below the fabric. She measured the distance from the serpentine tube to be about 9‘ above the underlying surface and the bottom of the rings to be about 7 ½” above the ground (KM 40, 41). Jane identified that the protective surfacing was similarly thin throughout the playground. She also videotaped the conditions.


Within the bounds of reasonable certainty, and subject to change if additional information becomes available, it is my professional opinion that:

  1. The playground protective surfacing on which Jared fell was degraded and thin in a manner that violated the standard of care for safe playgrounds and was dangerous in a manner that caused him to be seriously injured.
  2. The protective surfacing had been dangerous for an extended period of time before Jared was injured, and the defects in surfacing would have been readily discovered in the course of reasonable inspections and maintenance of the playground.
  3. Borough of Macungie‘s actions with regard to maintaining this playground violated the applicable standard of care for safe playgrounds and created the dangerous conditions that caused Jared to be injured.
  4. If Blueskies, Inc. was responsible for maintaining this playground as alleged by the Borough of Macungie in their Answers to Interrogatories and by their witness, Ben Smith, their actions also violated the applicable standard of care for safe playgrounds and created the dangerous conditions that caused Jared to be injured.

Download the entire redacted report in the “Details” section of this page.

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