Exposing the hidden dangers of NYC playgrounds

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. (PIX11) -- Kathy Diaz, Zariah’s mother, recalls the summer day when her young daughter shattered her arm and elbow at a Brooklyn park after falling from a play structure. Her 5-year-old daughter was in an incredible amount of pain.

“The cast ruined my whole summer,” Zariah Lopez said. “I couldn’t go to the pool, the park [or] the beach. None of that.”

Zariah’s fall and broken bones are part of an alarming city-wide trend. Over the last ten years, lawsuits for playground accidents have spiked 53 percent. 577 lawsuits have been filed, costing taxpayers $20.6 million.

“What we’re doing is we’re creating traps for kids and it’s not right,” attorney Eric Green said.

Green sued for the Diaz family, getting tens of thousands of dollars for the pain Zariah still has today, and blames the city park’s department for not keeping the city’s 1,000 playground grounds safe for an estimated 1.7 million kids who use them.

“The equipment itself has to be constantly maintained, inspected and repaired and it’s just not,” said attorney Green.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer agrees, calling out the park’s department in a blistering report–for not only neglecting unsafe conditions at playgrounds, but for having the money in the budget to upgrade and repair them, and just not spending it.

“Capital projects put forth by the parks department only finished 25 percent of the time. They have to zero in on where the trouble is coming from where they have to do more maintenance,” Stringer said.

Danger zones on playgrounds include missing or defective play surfaces, hot spots on playgrounds that cause burns, unsafe design and poor maintenance.

Stringer points to the Park Slope playground swings that had to be ripped out in 2013 after five children broke their legs, now replaced with toddler swings.

His report found they were installed too low to the ground, and The Parks Department was too slow in responding to prevent repeated injuries to children.

“We don’t want the city to get sued and we don’t want out kids in danger,” Stringer said.

By the borough, Brooklyn had the highest number of injury claims, followed by playgrounds in the Bronx, Manhattan and then Queens. Staten Island was the safest of the five NYC boroughs.

While New York choose not to make Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines the law of the land, 17 states do, including New Jersey. Lou Pellegrini, who heads Hoboken’s parks department, recently oversaw a $3.7 million renovation of its playgrounds following those safety guidelines, including all new play surfaces.

“It replaces asphalt and rubber mats because it has no give,” Pellegrini said. “It kinda bounces so when you fall you’re not going to have an impact.”

And that’s money well spent since 79 percent of all injuries nation-wide that send kids to the emergency room are due to falls and climbing equipment. And even though kids do get hurt, a group of Hoboken 7th graders on recess were quick to brag about their injuries. But also quick to say they love playing on the playground, and that bumps and bruises are all part of the experience.

While the New York City Parks insists our playgrounds are safe despite the injuries–they say the real lessons need to be learned by the kids themselves.

“You want them to have fun, to experiment, take some risks,” Liam Kavanagh, first deputy parks commissioner said. “Part of the allure of a playground is to climb to top and swing as high as you can.”

“You don’t want to reign in and make it too antiseptic of an experience,” Kavanagh said.

But Parks admits they are working to increase safety–adding more workers this summer to watch over out little ones with their Playground Associates Program, and sending out newly trained inspectors who’ve completed a CPSC course– to fix what’s broken. But the Parks Department would not provide their maintenance budget, nor provide PIX -11 with their schedule of safety inspections for playgrounds.

“Safety is our top priority,” Kavanagh said.

Kathy Diaz said she hopes it’s more than just lip service for the sake of her child and everyone else’s to be safe.

For safety videos on how to protect your family, click here.

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