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Improved Liability Protection Could Up Use of School Grounds

Review finds liability rules exist but are lacking; more protection could promote community health

THURSDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) -- The improvement of liability protection could open public school facilities for recreational activity to the benefit of the larger community, according to a review published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

John O. Spengler, J.D., of the University of Florida in Gainesville, and colleagues write that liability concerns limit community use of school property for sports and other recreational activities. The authors reviewed recreational user statutes from all 50 states in 2007 and 2009 to see whether those statutes might protect public schools used for recreational activities outside of regular school hours within the context of reducing anxiety over liability issues and expanding public school use.

The researchers found that 42 states had recreational user statutes that could potentially protect public schools from liability, and that courts have adhered to such statutes to protect schools in negligence cases. Protected activities listed in state statutes include summer sports, winter sports, playing on playground equipment, running/jogging, and bicycling. However, they write that the legislation lacks uniformity and depth, and specificity regarding the types of activities that community members could conduct on school grounds is rare. Only 12 states have statutes that could protect schools from liability specific to activities utilizing playgrounds, pools, and other fitness areas, though many schools have these resources.

"This study suggests the need for further statutory liability protections for public schools, and immunity provisions that target activities conducive to physical activity, common on school grounds, and popular among community residents. It further suggests that empirical studies be conducted to examine school administrator's perceptions relevant to liability as a potential barrier to opening school sport and recreational facilities to members of the community outside of regular school hours," the authors write.

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