February 26, 2024Blog

Playgrounds, Pickleball, and Premises Liability – Common Issues for Churches

How to balance risk management with a welcoming church?  

Churches should be welcoming and inviting. Children’s ministries and sports ministries especially. No church wants to have a 10-page waiver form for kids to play on the playground. There are real risks to manage, legal concepts to keep in mind, and important steps to take to manage/reduce the risk while maintaining a welcoming environment.     

Risks.  There are 5 approaches.  Risks can be (1) managed operationally, (2) insured against, (3) contracted around/shifted, (4) avoided, and/or (5) accepted (either knowingly or unknowingly). Most often, any given risk category involves a combination of the above. 

For example, thinking about a church playground.  If your church accident insurance limit is $1M, you “accept” the risk of damages incurred above that amount.  You could raise the limit and “insure” the risk above $1M.  You could also manage risk with trained volunteers to supervise kids on the playground and post rules with max adult/child ratios.  You could shift the risk somewhat by hiring a maintenance company to maintain the playground.  Contract around it by negotiating with the maintenance company to indemnify you for any injuries from faulty equipment, or (perhaps) by having all attendees sign waivers to enter the playground.  You could avoid the risk by not having a playground – of course, that completely misses the point.

Churches utilize a combination of those approaches. For premises liability issues, insurance and operational management are key to keeping barriers low and creating a welcoming environment. Contracts and notices that shift and allocate risks have important roles, too.

Legal concepts. 4 important legal concepts to keep in mind. 

  • "Assumption of risk" - a defense to an otherwise valid claim where the defendant shows that the plaintiff was aware of the danger but unreasonably proceeded to take the risk.
  • "Attractive nuisance" - the legal doctrine that a landowner can be responsible for harm to a child who trespasses on the property if the landowner has a dangerous condition that is reasonably expected to attract children.
  • "Industry standards" - the standard of care that courts will use to determine whether a playground is designed and maintained in a safe manner.
  • "Negligent supervision" - a type of negligence claim that arises when an adult fails to exercise reasonable care in supervising a child.


Steps to consider.  Now for a checklist of the most common issues to address.

  1. Insurance coverage.
  2. Proper equipment installation.
  3. Follow manufacturer’s guidelines for use.
  4. Follow industry standards for playground and facility design.
  5. Check the state rules for child care facility playgrounds and appropriate surfaces.
  6. Routine maintenance and inspection – who’s job is it?  How do you document that it’s been done?
  7. Signs/posted rules – does the playground/gym close at dusk?  Minimum age requirements?  Maximum adult/child ratios?
  8. Supervision required?
  9. Warning signs, barriers around dangerous areas.
  10. Waivers for groups, leagues.
  11. Facilities use agreements for group/party rental, league use, or similar.
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