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U.S.D.C., Eastern District of Pennsylvania

This action arose after the male minor 7-year-old plaintiff slid down a sliding board at a Philadelphia elementary school and lacerated his pinky finger to the point that surgical amputation was required. The plaintiff mother brought suit against the School District of Philadelphia as well as the manufacturer of the sliding board, alleging that the playground equipment was dangerously defective. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants’ conduct in allowing the known dangerous slide to remain in a children’s playground was so egregious that it warranted punitive damages against the non-municipal defendants and constituted a civil rights violation by the defendant school district. The defendant manufacturer named the company, which had fabricated and welded together the component parts of the sliding board, as a third-party defendant in the case.

The minor plaintiff was in the first grade and was attending classes at Samuel H. Daroff Elementary School in Philadelphia. On October 20, ________, during recess, the boy was playing in the school’s playground and slid down a sliding board. The youngster lacerated the tip of the pinky finger of his dominant right hand. Despite medical attempts to reattach the finger tip, it was surgically amputated at the distal phalanx (first joint).

The plaintiff’s engineer reported that a seam of the metal sliding board, which connected the side to the base, had separated due to failure of a weld. The separation of the metal seam created a razor sharp edge on the side of the sliding board which resulted in the plaintiff’s injury, according to the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff also retained a playground safety expert who testified that the sliding board was dangerous and inappropriate to be included in the playground equipment of an elementary school.

The plaintiffs alleged that residue from duct tape was discovered in the area of the sliding board where the seam had separated. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant school district was aware of the dangerous condition and inappropriately attempted to repair it with duct tape. The plaintiff contended that the school district knew of the dangerous condition for some six months prior to the plaintiff’s injury as shown by a work order indicating that the sliding board required repair. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant school district’s failure to repair or remove the dangerous sliding board and its attempt to repair it with duct tape showed a reckless indifference to the safety of its students and constituted a civil rights violation.

The plaintiff’s hand surgeon indicated that the injury caused some neuropathic damage with continuing pain and numbness in the plaintiff’s fingertip despite occupational therapy for approximately 18 months. The plaintiff also claimed emotional injuries which necessitated psychiatric counseling. The plaintiff’s psychiatrist reported that the child suffered depression, anxiety and a personality change associated with the physical trauma of losing his fingertip. The plaintiff claimed $________ in past medical expenses in the form of a medical lien.

The plaintiff’s vocational expert opined that the minor plaintiff will be precluded from many fields of employment due to the finger amputation. The plaintiff sought damages for loss of future earning capacity. The plaintiff’s economist calculated the plaintiff’s future loss of earnings to be $________ to $________ if he is partially disabled and $1.5 to $2.6 million if he is totally disabled. The defendants argued that the minor plaintiff had made a good recovery and would not suffer a loss of future earning capacity as a result of the loss of the tip of his little finger.The case was settled for $________ prior to trial. The school district agreed to pay 60% of the settlement, the welder/fabricator of the sliding board contributed 21% and the sliding board manufacturer paid 19%.

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