Summer Camp Injury and Liability

You expect when you send your child to summer camp that they will have a fun memorable time. Maybe they will suffer from a little homesickness. You don’t expect them to be seriously injured, but it can, and does, happen. Injury is the leading cause of death in children; and, according to the CDC, there are an average of 9.2 million nonfatal injuries to children per year. While these don’t all occur at summer camp, thousands of children are injured at summer camp every year.

Most injuries at camp occur during structured camp activities. Ineffective or improper protective equipment, such as damaged lifejackets, is a cause of many injuries. Because there is no state regulation of summer camps in Missouri, it is up to the camp to regulate itself. The protective equipment can withstand a lot of use and abuse in the course of a summer and needs to be inspected regularly and replaced as necessary. Many injuries can be avoided by simply monitoring the equipment and making sure it is used properly.

Proper supervision by staff is a key component in camper safety. It is the responsibility of the directors of the camp to make sure the staff they hire is qualified and properly trained.

In 2011 a fifteen year-old boy drown at a camp in Michigan. The staff had the children swimming in a lake at 10:00 pm in violation rules prohibiting swimming in the dark. It is the duty of the camp to make their staff aware of the rules imposed for the camper’s safety.

In another horrifying case, counselors and lifeguards at a swim camp were completely oblivious to a drowning 4 year-old boy. He lay motionless, floating in the pool for over 8 minutes before the lifeguard finally took notice. Once the boy was pulled from the pool, his life could have been saved had they used proper CPR. However, despite it’s own rule that staff be certified and current in CPR, neither the lifeguard nor the aquatics director who attempted to administer it had that certification.

These cases are not solitary and go to show the importance of a camp that not only implements safety rules, but follows them as well. Having a staff trained in CPR, water safety and lifesaving, disease prevention, as well as areas specific to the camp is vital to the health and welfare of the campers.

While prevention of injury is the goal, children do get hurt. A determination must be made in each individual case as to whether an “accident” was actually the result of someone’s negligence or misconduct.


Summer is coming and with it summer activities for children. Sports, swimming lessons, summer camp are just some of the fun things our children like to do in the summer. As parents, we are presented with waivers, disclaimers, release of liability forms, and other similarly named documents. In these documents we agree not to sue or to “hold harmless” the providers of activities or camps in the event that our children are injured. When you sign these, are you really agreeing not to hold them accountable if they injure your child?

The effectiveness of waivers varies from state to state. In Missouri releases of liability are not affective in cases where the conduct is willful, intentional, or beyond mere negligence. They are also not generally favored so they are “strictly construed” against the person or entity receiving the benefit.

In Missouri the release must be “clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous” to release someone from their own future negligence. The language must be understandable to the average person. A parent reading the release should be able to readily ascertain that it is a document exonerating the other party from liability if, due to their negligence, that parent’s child is injured. If you need a law degree to understand it, it probably doesn’t meet the standard. It can’t be hidden. If the language releasing someone from liability is difficult to find in the document, it may not be invalid.

When it comes to children, there is some question in this state whether a parent can waive liability for the child’s injury. But the same rules apply. The release still cannot waive willful, intentional, or grossly negligent acts and must be clear and conspicuous.

If your child is injured and you have signed a waiver or release, do not assume you have no recourse. Consult an attorney who handles cases of injured children.