The recent tragic death of Harambe, the silver back gorilla who was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a boy had crossed a barrier and fallen into a water enclosure, has created much debate. One side of the debate believes that the Zoo was negligent for failing to have a proper barrier to prevent children and visitors from entering the gorilla’s enclosure. The other side believes that responsibility lies with the parent for not properly supervising their child. In this blog I make no attempt to debate which side is right or wrong. However, the issue of parental supervision that surfaces is something that does comes up in the area of personal injury law.
The parent/child relationship is seen in the eyes of the law as one which requires the “dominant party” (the parent) to take affirmative steps to prevent injury to a “vulnerable party” (the child). Of course, it is very uncommon for a child to take action against their parent; however, it is possible. More likely, the issue of negligent parental supervision happens when a third party causes injury to a child and then that third party claims that the parent is partially or wholly responsible for the injury due to negligent parental supervision.
For example, if a young child was to be struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a street alone, the driver of the vehicle may say that the parent of the young child was not properly supervising them. Similarly, depending on the set of facts, if a child is swimming in a public place and was injured at the fault of someone else (e.g. lifeguard not supervising, unsafe conditions) the parent may bear some responsibility for the injury if the child was not properly supervised. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that parents have a duty to safeguard their children and that a failure to do so can lead to liability either to the child directly or indirectly to a third party.
While summer may be a great opportunity to get outside, water safety, particularly for young children, becomes an area of concern. According to the Canadian Red Cross, drowning is a leading cause of unintentional death for children ages one to four.
Below are five tips for parents or guardians when supervising children around water. Although they are common sense, it is helpful to keep these in mind as we head into summer.
- Maintain constant supervision; do not leave children alone near water; make sure you can see them at all times.
- Inexperienced swimmers should wear an approved lifejacket or PFD.
- Do not let your children go swimming alone. Make sure they go in the water with a buddy.
- Set limits for your children based on their abilities; make sure they swim in a depth they are comfortable with.
- Even if you and your children do not plan to swim take caution around pools or natural bodies of water such as the ocean, rivers and lakes.
I would encourage parents and guardians to take a look at the Canadian Red Cross website which has more detailed information and tips on staying safe around water.
This is a complicated area of law. Should your child ever be involved in an accident you should consult with a lawyer to determine what your rights and responsibilities are.