Iconic Merry-Go-Round Is Deemed an Insurance Liability

Hi Readers — Wheeeee! That’s the sound  of happy Australian kids in the town of Geraldton, playing on the merry-go-round. Or at least it was. The festive bit of fun was built 20 years ago to honor the spirit of local author Randolph Stow,  who wrote the apparently much-beloved book, “Merry Go Round In the Sea.” And yet, says this article, now the merry-go-round has been decommissioned because it presents the city council with an insurance risk.

You can sort of see the council’s point: If a child DID get hurt, it WOULD take a hit and then there’d be less money for everything else the city needs. This is a real problem. But of course we can all see the other side very clearly, too. As clearly as the 14 year old who has taken it upon himself to collect 350 signatures to save the merry go round.

Said he:

“There’s no point fighting for something unless it means a lot to you. We’ve spent much of our childhood playing on the merry go round and have had so much fun. I hope the council realise it’s not just a piece of wood that they can bolt down. I think they need to realise the community likes this.”

Said the mayor (and methinks they need a public relations person): It’s like a pot hole tha tneeds to be taken care of.

Best quote was from a businessman:

“The merry go round is much more than a pot hole.

“It and Randolph Stow are part of our social fabric, in the same way as agriculture, sport and fishing have been for the region and our city.”

That’s the true importance of this battle for the town and also for those of us at Free-Range Kids: At some point we have to make society realize that childhood is not just a liability waiting to happen, it is part of who we are. And to lock it up and tamp it down and dismantle it all in the name of “safety” is to perform a mass joy-ectomy on a generation.

Merry-go-rounds are endangered here in America for the same reason as down under: Liability. If you have any great ideas on how to wrest fun and freedom back from the clutches of litigiousness, please share them here. Now! — Lenore

45 Responses

  1. A friend of mine’s daughter fell off a merry go round. One of her legs got caght and both lower bones broke.

    Our friend took her daughter to the hospital and got her patched up. She is noteven remotely considering any kind of legal action.


    Because no one forced her daughter to play.

    Easy. Simple.

  2. That’s the thing Anthony. There aren’t enough people like your friend. There’s enough people out there (no doubt in your community as well) that will take advantage of filing a law suite. It’s people like this that ruin it for everyone else. Because of this, I can understand the city’s decision to protect themselves. Not saying it’s right, but in a legal stand point, they have no choice.

    Now if people were more honest, with themselves, as well as the community. And realize that kids will be kids and they will get hurt from time to time. As well as educating their children in safety in their activities, and to not be so opportunistic, then this wouldn’t be an issue in Australia or anywhere else in the world. It’s like we’ve always said, it starts at home.

  3. From humor writer sedatedape dot com, today:

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And stairs. And steep hills. And stuff falling on top of us from the top shelf”. – FDR speech (first draft)

    And now merry go rounds. And well, pretty much anything. Is there a single object on this planet that a kid couldn’t somehow hurt itself with? I don’t think so. I guess the city wouldn’t just settle for yet another stupid warning sticker, would they?

  4. I fell of a merry go round back in the 70’s. It was one of those merry go rounds that goes around by other kids pushing it. I got trampled. I brushed it off and didn’t tell anyone.

    Around 1980 I climbed to the top of a set of bleachers at the high school and tried to slide down the pole. I fell. I ended up on crutches for a few weeks. This happened on a Sunday afternoon and I probably wasn’t supposed to be there anyway. Nobody was sued.

    I smashed a friend of mine in the head with an axe handle (we were using it as a baseball bat) and she needed stitches. Again, nobody sued!

    Same friend, at girl scout camp: I was holding a candle and the wind blew her hair into it. Her hair caught on fire and I pushed her into the lake to douse the fire! Everything was fine, and again…nobody was sued!

    Funny how times change in regards to people suing.

  5. I would love to tell you that things are different in europe and they still are – but we’re catching up. sadly. So far, nobody is banning merry go rounds or high slides here, but this happened to us two years ago:

    We where at a friends garden and they had another family over – we had a nice summer BBQ. All in all, we where 6 adults, my friend and I where pregnant, my friends husband was cooking, my DH played with the 6 kids that where there (2 to 12 years old) and the rest of us enjoyed the free time.
    My Husband pulled the kids in a little cart (especially made for this, btw) the whole afternoon. At one point, the oldest kid stands up, the cart tilts (didn’t even fall over), he falls out of the cart and breaks his arm.
    My Husband got sued for negligent bodily injury (I think. I had to google the translation for Körperverletzung)
    The judge who had to rule in the case was actually quite furios at the other couple for doing this, and my husbands lawier said that this was a serious case of “americanization” and looking for a culprit instead of accepting an accident. We won the criminal lawsuit, tbut we still don’t know if we will have to pay them any money – they want 6.5 thousand Euros (about 9,000$). But cases like this are rare here, luckily 🙂

  6. @Jan. Indeed.
    There’s this text about how the people born in the 60s and 70s managed to survive while eating regular sugar, climb trees etc., and still end up to adult age.

  7. The law designed for legitimate negligent liability claims has been abused and stretched so far beyond what society can tolerate, thanks to a handful of people wanting to make a buck. The few have ruined it for many…and it needs to be addressed by the legislature or the courts. We need to take back responsibility for our own actions!

  8. What’s needed is some major tort reform, like the kind of laws Germany has where if someone were to file a crazy lawsuit and lost, they would have to pay for the court costs of the people they filed suit against.

  9. The other piece of playground equipment that is disappearing from playgrounds are teeter-totters/see-saws. We went camping in a state park recently. At the play ground there were two see-saws and the kids had a ball on them.

  10. The fact is that Merry Go Rounds are extremely dangerous.

    And that is why we love them. You can go really fast and if you fall off you can get pretty badly torn up.

    That makes it more fun.

  11. We took our 2-year-old out to a farm shop in Hampshire, England, yesterday. They had a fenced playground full of slides and swings that were a little too big for him, but right in the middle was an ancient, rusty hulk of a tractor, its wheels long flattened and half-buried in the soil. We put him up on the seat and watched him turn the wheel and pull on various levers — I thought we’d never get him off it. But I also thought of your website and how a lot of people would consider this an insurance liability instead of the most excellent playground toy in the world.

  12. there was like a 50 year old one at the Ekka (fair) in Brisbane Australia that happened to aswell. After some people complained, i think they fixed it up to standard and it came back a few years later??

  13. We have a iconic merrygoround near a local beach in south australia. There was some “gang violence” near it and they reported on the news the merrygoround was shut down.
    I rang them because I’d planned to meet up with some people there in a coule of weeks and wanted to check if the news was right and if it was open or not. The person who ran it gave me a serve about “listening to and perpetuating gossip”…. I was like “huh, I just wanted to know if you were open or not because the news said you were closed!!”…
    Needless to say we cancelled that occassion and met somewhere else because the owner was so rude!

  14. I only just now realized that these australian merrygorounds are totally different from the US ones. The one being shut down has better photos here:


    It’s a giant pole with six cables coming down to hold up the six sides of the perimeter of a giant hollow hexagon, the outside edges which appear to be seats that kids somehow hold on to even without any handles to do so.

    The article also points out they are going to replace this model with more modern versions of merry go rounds.

    The US version of the merry go round looks like this:


    With both of them the goal is to go so fast you fly off and break your head open. It looks like the australian version would be even more effective and fun for doing so.

  15. And here is the city planning document showing the new safer merry go rounds that are to be installed at this park.

    Click to access FORESHORE%20-%20PLAYGROUND%20CONCEPT%20A3.pdf

    It’s a spinning jungle gym. Quite frankly it looks pretty darn awesome.

  16. @Veelana, That is just mind-boggling. Does that family think they’re likely to be invited over to people’s houses any more? If I knew them to be litigious and vindictive, I would never want them at my house.

    If my son fell down and broke his arm at a friend’s house while he was goofing around, I would apologize to them, not sue them. It’s absurd that people think such bad behavior to be appropriate. I’d think that being invited to barbecues and having friends would be worth more than a few thousand dollars.

  17. I’m often appalled by the things people will sue for in the United States.

    However, I think part of the problem is that many people in the United States are concerned about inability to pay medical bills, and when they look for options, suing seems like a way to get money. I can’t imagine suing if my kid fell off a piece of playground equipment and got hurt. But if I had no health insurance and the kid needed any kind of expensive medical care, I might feel differently.

  18. @Jennifer, Spot on. Medical emergencies in America can be incredibly expensive, even with insurance.

    For all those calling for “Tort Reform” (ie. surrendering your first amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances). Be careful what you wish for.

  19. Jennifer’s right… and it’s hard for a jury to return a negative verdict when it means a kid goes without health care. Tort reform without health-care reform is pretty heartless.

    An unrelated note: Lenore, I haven’t found your e-mail address, but there’s a blog you should enjoy about bicycling—and fighting the culture of fear that keeps people off their bikes: Copenhagenize.com. Particularly this post, about high-school kids organizing to bike to school: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/10/while-theyre-waiting-for-infrastructure.html

  20. I’ve never heard of a tort reform proposal that denies or even limits medical expenses to victims. That seems like a red herring. Tort reform is usually about limiting (not eliminating) punitive damages, not denying people access to redress of grievances or compensation for actual expenses.

  21. Paco- The silly health care reform bill will not make health care cheaper or free for anyone. If a child(or adult) goes to an ER with a broken arm, etc, they are treated– insurance or no insurance. BTW, just because someone doesn’t have health insurance doesn’t mean they won’t pay their medical bill.

  22. However, the possibility of paying substantial punitive damages is what keeps many businesses honest. Just paying for the medical bills of people who injure themselves on faulty (not simply an accident but actual negligence on the part of someone) equipment doesn’t do much to make companies fix known defects if the cost of fixing the defects will be more than the anticipated cost of medical care. If punitive damages had been limited, Ford would probably still be knowingly building cars that blew up on impact.

    The problem with tort reform is that it doesn’t do what you want it to do. The fact is that most pointless lawsuits either lose completely or settle for low amounts. Those are not the cases that get huge verdicts or punitive damages. Caps on punitive damages does absolutely nothing to stop frivolous lawsuits. Further, there are cases that we want large punitive damages to make the at-fault person take notice. Does anyone really think McD’s, Ford care about a few 20k verdicts?

    @fowlwoman – Yes, for a broken arm some uninsured can and will pay the bill. However, unless the uninsured person is Bill Gates, they aren’t paying the bill if they get cancer, or if their baby is born at 28 weeks or if they’re paralyzed. As you said, if they go to the hospital, they are treated. But serious illness or injury bills total in the millions for the uninsured. Nobody is paying that other than the taxpayers. You’re correct; I don’t anticipate that MY medical bills will go down under the healthcare bill. I do hope to stop paying so much damn money for OTHER PEOPLE’S medical bills.

  23. Fun and litigiousness – perhaps this would be a good place to post a question regarding these points.

    My childrens’ elementary school closed last year, and the students of this school and another were moved to a large middle school near by. As a result, we now have a school designed for grades 6 to 8 being used by nearly 700 K-7 students. The school district did install a $30,000 play structure on it, and also left a few old metal climbing things at the grounds. This means that about 50 students in total can play on a play structure. The majority of the site is on a steep hill, and there’s really not a lot for the kids to do. There are some bushes in one place, and a paved area, but that’s about it.

    Apparently, there’s about 7 supervisors at recess or lunch – that’s a 1 to 100 student ratio, on a very weirdly laid out site.

    I’m feeling very conflicted as a free range parent. On the one hand, I don’t think the kids need a specific “thing” to play on, and I like unstructured play. On the other hand, some sort of rational layout for the site which gives children the opportunity for different types of play would be far better.

    I also think that turning around a suing for normal childhood accidents can be getting carried away. Again, on the other hand, I think that this particular situation is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and should my child be injured, I really don’t know what I’d do.

    Various parent committees are being formed to look at some of these issues, but there’s a question of funding and how quickly things can be done.

    Comments welcome!

  24. The legal status here is that you can become responsible for another person’s court costs. Not only in a civil suit but also in criminal case. Sometimes the court decides that each party will cover their own court costs.

    Most home insurances here, in Sweden, has a legal coverage attatched. It covers costs for hiring a lawyer etc., but the amount, given what a lawyer charges per hour, can be next to nothing. My home insurance premium offers 50 000 sek (with the current dollar status that’s 7100 dollars).

    If the situation was that of what Valeena describes the burden of proof would be carried by both parties. The parents of the child would have to prove that the father driving the carriage was reckless and in effect caused the child to break its arm. my mother (a lawyer) said that it would be unlikely for such a case to be judged in the favour of the family with the injured child. There’s the standing up, the carriage was used in an appropriate manner and then there’s the fact that kids are well, kids. Then include that you can, here, be left to carry your court costs, lawyers follow the will of their clients but if it is bound to fail, most advice their clients to settle claims outside of the courtroom.

    There was a fairly recent trial, not involving a child, but rather a woman who cut down two trees that wasn’t on her grounds. This is to illustrate how profoundly expensive a civil suit can become. They belonged to this grand estate house and made a “wall” of trees. When she cut them down it left a hole. The estate management wanted money to replace the trees, she denied, it went to court. She was charged to pay 478 000 sek (almost 70 000 dollars) for the trees to be replaced and cared for, plus the other parties lawyer and court costs, adding 300 000 sek to the tab (43 000 dollars), total, 113 000 dollars.

    You might have cause to sue but if there’s a prohibitive financial component, it most likely weeds the “worst” out. I hope no laws are changed to bring in a stipulation that allows more to sue.

    (In a criminal case you are awarded a lawyer without charge to your person although the court can order that you pay any victims of the crime, THEIR court costs if you are sentenced).

  25. Well, regardless of the merits or lack thereof of tort reform, the point is that no tort reform proposal I’m aware of either 1) limits people’s ability to sue or 2) prevents people collecting on medical expenses. Whatever you want to criticize it for, it’s not about either of those things.

  26. Pentamom:
    Then what is it about from your point of view?

    As to what you do, or don’t do, when disaster strikes and you lose a child? You move on the best you can. We lost a child in a drowning accident. It was tragic, it was needless, it was by all means preventable. It was the one in a million odds accident and it happened right next to our house. We miss our child every day even though it’s been some years since. Initially, we blamed ourselves, we blamed the universe, we blamed all that there was to blame. But, of course, it was to no avail. You need to accept reality. Things happen, they just do without it being anyone’s fault. I understand the quest of finding someone – ANYONE – to blame.
    We don’t prohibit our other children to go to a public pool or be near water. We taught them all to swim, I keep a watchful eye at all times but denying them the simple pleasures of learning how to swim, to me that is failing as a parent. I will never set my foot in water even resembling pooling, but my fears are not to color my children’s view of the world.
    If you imagine all the things that can, and in some cases do, go wrong you will go insane. Literally. The idea of suing when things do go wrong. Of course noone can deny you the benefit but it promotes the culture of fear where everything is dangerous.

  27. It’s about limiting punitive damages. Donna may have a point about why it isn’t a good idea to do that, but the point is that the assertions made above that it violates the first amendment on redress of grievances, or would leave someone with no way to sue for actual expenses, just aren’t accurate in light of what tort reform proposals actually do. Maybe somewhere in the world there are people who think that people shouldn’t be allowed to sue for things, but that’s not what’s at issue when the reality of “tort reform” is discussed.

  28. In this case, where it regards limiting people’s ability to file frivolous suits vs not setting up a system whereby a company can truly be negligent but people don’t have a system of redress, one of my favorite words applies here.


    As with a lot of other social progress that occurs, it occurs due to a current unfortunate situation that needs redressing, but then they go too far to the other extreme by overreacting. You see in domestic violence reform–before, a woman could go to the police covered with bruises but no one would intervene–that was wrong. Now, however, in some places, you can be arrested for “domestic violence, criminal damage” simply for getting mad during a sports game on TV and breaking your TV remote in a passionate fit of stupidity in the privacy of your own home, with your wife not at all desiring any legal intervention–but even she, the supposed victim, can’t stop the arrest because of “mandatory arrest” policies. That’s an invasion of privacy and going way too far from one extreme to another.

    With child abuse, used to there was little intervention no matter how much a child was abused. Now, people think someone should CPS on every little thing, even things like a parent re-using a pacifier that fell on the floor–and they’ve made such reporting all but mandatory. Again, from one wrong extreme to the other wrong extreme.

    If McDonald’s fails to keep their food sanitary and people are poisoned, perhaps even with fatal cases, it would be wrong for no one to be able to do anything about it. But when people are scared, say, to let others use their home pool or play on swings etc because of fear of being sued, we’ve “reformed” things way too far.


  29. I fell off a merry-go-round when I was 4, and bit all the way through my bottom lip when I landed.

    The End

  30. When I was in second grade, the teachers repeatedly warned the children not to jump on the merry-go-round while it was moving, and of course we ignored them. Then one afternoon I jumped on while it was moving, but my leg went underneath and was broken. I spent six weeks in a cast, the students all had an important object lesson, and no one thought of suing anyone else.

  31. My community still has our merry-go-round. Please don’t tell anyone. 🙂

  32. Anouk: that was beautiful.

  33. “The idea of suing when things do go wrong. Of course noone can deny you the benefit but it promotes the culture of fear where everything is dangerous.”

    However, there are times when things don’t just “go wrong.” There are times when other people or companies cause things to “go wrong.” For those instances, we need the ability to hold them accountable. While I think we blame too much in this country, we should not go too far to the other direction and declare everything an unfortunate accident for which nobody is to blame either. There’s a difference between a kid flying off a well-maintained merry-go-round and breaking a leg (an accident) and a kid falling through an improperly maintained merry-go-round and breaking a leg (not so much). The first is user error for which there should be no redress and the second is owner error for which there should.

    Lawsuits are also about getting the proper party to pay – generally insurance companies fighting it out. If someone trips on my property and breaks her leg, it’s the responsibility of my homeowners insurance policy to pay for the injuries. Her medical insurance company has every right to refuse to pay. Is she then supposed to pay the bill out of her own pocket when there is a perfectly valid source from which to get the money? If you thinks so, you’re a really bad money manager. Her medical insurance can also pay the bills and then sue my homeowners insurance for it’s money back. This is all done in mine and her names (Jane Smith v. Donna as opposed to Blue Cross v State Farm). As long as we have various insurance, they’re going to get into pissing contests over who pays for what.

  34. no see-saws, no merry-go-rounds, what has this world come to. I’m 11 years old and the only see-saw that I’ve been on was in Mexico!! I’ve never even been on a merry-go-round!!

  35. I live in VA. We have one park in our area with a merry go round. They were renovating the park and had pulled out the merry go around, and I thought for sure they would be replacing it with a nice package of bubble wrap, but when the park re-opened – they had just installed a NEW merry go round, that was pretty much the same as the old one, just newer and not rusted. In addition to the traditional merry go round, they installed a vertical merry go round (the kind you hang from by your hands and spin around while hanging) and a mini rock climbing wall. I was thrilled.

  36. @Donna. I did not say that lawsuits are, in its totality, something that should be banned. Mistakes are obviously made, there is risk involved. When a son had complicated ear surgery the doctor mentioned so many risks that the best option seemed to grab son and run home. They had to, they said, to prevent law suits IF a complication occurs.

    I take issue with the ideas and/or thinking behind “if I trip over something someone else put there”. The rush to sue is a factor in driving up costs for health insurance, surgeries, treatments. Driving, mainly, OB/GYN, out of business, when their risk premiums grow laughably huge.

    Now, maybe I’ve had and seen too much tragegy in my life that the mere suggestion of sueing over anything short of needless death, goes against the core of my being. I am not fishing for sympathy but in a few years after our son’s death my sister in law fell down a flight of stairs and suffered traumatic brain injury. We were suggested to sue the building management over the fall down the stairs but it was an accident. we lost 5 more close relatives, among those my parents, in the boxing day tsunami in south east asia. Much seems frivolous to me, but I certainly do not mean to diminish human suffering.

    I would welcome limits in the law suit availability. It should not be a matter of default. We lived in the US, later Canada, upon the death of my parents we moved to get a fresh start. Hence I have experienced another kind of system that does not rely on law suits for compensations to injuries.

  37. There is a playground here that was renovated by Kaboom! Unfortunately, as part of the renovation, the existing equipment was deemed unsafe. It included this awesome fire engine. It was just metal pipes put together to resemble a fire engine, with 2 steering wheels and places to climb and (I think) a slide. I was crushed when I heard it was going and tried to take my son back before it went, but it was taken away the day after I heard about it. My son was crushed. I honestly couldn’t think of anything that was especially unsafe about it – at least in comparison to your average play equipment. Yes, it was metal and metal gets hot. It was on grass, so it wasn’t, perhaps, as soft as sand or mulch. But it invited so much imagination! My son was the driver, he was the hose operator (there was no actual hose), he was the ladder guy.

    I heard it was going to the city’s equipment lot so they could decide what to do with it. I suspect it was totaled – if they couldn’t keep it there, how, liability wise, could they move it?


  38. Ok the real answer here is to dump the frivilious lawsuits. Suing the city because your child fell off a piece of play equipment and broke a bone is silly. Kids break bones, they heal and life happily goes on.

    I understand that gross negligence is not acceptable, but honestly we gotta get a grip. We have too many lawyers, and too many lawsuits.

    Sorry for the rant.

  39. Love your work, Lenore. And I’d like to introduce a new thread..I live in Perth, Western Australia (four hours drive from Geraldton). Merry-Go-Round in the Sea is an Australian classic and on the reading list for high school English. It is an absolutely brilliant read, and I would go so far as to say, a must-read. I urge readers of your blog to track down a copy and give it a go. It is autobiographical and describes exactly a free-range life.
    Here’s the blurb from the Pengion Australia website.
    “In 1941, Rob Coram is six. The war feels far removed from his world of aunties and cousins and the beautiful, dry landscape of Geraldton in Western Australia. But when his favourite, older cousin, Rick, leaves to join the army, the war takes a step closer.
    When Rick returns from the war several years later, he has changed and Rob feels betrayed. The old merry-go-round that represents Rob’s dream of utopia (the security of his family and of the land that is his home) begins to disintegrate before his eyes.
    The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea allows us a precious glimpse into a simpler kind of childhood in a country that no longer exists.”
    It’s available at http://www.bookdepository.co.uk – free shipping!
    Hope you enjoy,,, 🙂

  40. This is very disappointing. It is sadly a world wide trend it seems. We were in Paris in June and had a visit to Disneyland Paris. I was absolutely aghast to see that the carousel (the slow, horse going up and down in place type) had seat belts! I think the world may indeed be going mad. I just read the English children’s classic Swallows and Amazons for the first time. How astonishing it is- the kids go camping for two weeks on an island in the middle of a lake- they have to sail there, put their tents up,light fires and cook their own meals. While I don’t think my 9 year old is quite that free range, I do think that even when he was 3 he didn’t need a seat belt on a carousel. I wish the balance would shift back to a somewhat more reasonable position.

  41. When I was nine, I broke my arm horsing around on a merry-go-round on my school’s playground. No sweat. It was just a part of childhood. My mom took me to the doctor who put my arm in a cast for me to wear as a badge of honor while it healed. Did my parents sue the school? No. Why should they? I was the one who broke my own arm horsing around, and they knew it (because they asked and I knew better than to try to con them *heh*).

  42. In certain instances, it is easy to foresee how a luna park can suffer from insurance liabilities.

  43. In Sep. my daughter, granddaughter and I were in one of our local parks playing badmitton. I stepped back into a large hole/deep indentation in the grass and twisted my lower back and right knee. At that moment, I did not realize how bad I had injured myself (I have always been an active person). Later that evening my right knee and lower right-side of my back hurt so bad while standing, I thougt I would pass out. Is this grounds to sue the park for not maintaining the grounds better for safer play etc?

  44. […] Australia: “Iconic Merry-Go-Round Is Deemed an Insurance Liability” [Free-Range Kids] […]

  45. haaai 🙂 ur site is very educative and good i like ur website
    please visite to http://www.insurance-ku.com and give comments yaa thanks..

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