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December 17, 2012

Bounce houses offer fun for kids, but potential for injury, lawsuits

By Lori Johnston, InsWeb.com

A child’s squeals of delight can quickly turn into tears when playing in an inflatable bounce house. In bounce houses, kids can suffer injuries as serious as broken bones and concussions.

A new study finds a startling 15-fold increase in the number of children treated for inflatable bouncer-related injuries in U.S. emergency rooms from 1990 to 2010. The research was conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy, part of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The study found that 64,657 children and teens were treated in ERs for fractures, sprains, strains, head and neck injuries, and other injuries. That equals more than 30 children a day.

“I was surprised by how dramatic the increase has been,” says Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance. “If this were an infectious disease, this would be headline news across the country.”

Annual injuries skyrocketed from 702 in 1995 to 11,311 in 2010. Falls were the most common cause of injury (43 percent), followed by stunts and collisions.

Bounce houses and home insurancebounce house

Homeowner’s insurance policies don’t exclude bounce houses from coverage if an accident happens, says Dan Corbin, research director at Professional Insurance Agents, a New York-based trade group that represents insurance agents.

A typical homeowner’s insurance policy application will ask whether there’s a trampoline on the property, but there’s no question about other amusements, such as a bounce house.

“The bottom line is since there is no exclusion, if somebody got hurt, there would be coverage,” Corbin says.

More bounce houses, more injuries

The study found that 43 percent of the injuries occurred at sports and recreation centers with bounce houses, but 38 percent of injuries happened at home – in bounce houses owned or rented by families.

““We think that the increase in injuries is because more children are using them (in the past decade),” Smith says.

Amusement industry representatives have told Smith that sales and rentals of bounce houses are rising, but sales data is unavailable.

Types of injuries and insurance coverage

The study, published in the December 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics, found the most common injuries in bounce houses were:

1. Fractures – 28 percent.
2. Sprains and strains – 27 percent.
3. Head and neck injuries –19 percent.

The study found that 11,608 children from 1990 to 2010 suffered bumps and bruises, and 17,756 experienced broken bones, but the injuries can be more serious. The study indicated that 4,539 children suffered concussions and closed head injuries (a hard blow to the head that injures the brain but doesn’t break the skull). In some serious cases, injured children required CT scans.

If a child is injured on a bounce house at your home or in your yard, homeowner’s insurance would apply in two ways:

Medical payments coverage: If a guest (not a family member) is injured, the policy usually pays $1,000 to $5,000 worth of medical expenses, Corbin says. If your child is injured, your health insurance would kick in.

Liability coverage: If the injured child’s family sues you, liability coverage will offer financial protection. Minimum coverage is $100,000, but most people typically carry $300,000 or $500,000, Corbin says.

Umbrella coverage, which provides extra financial protection, is an option. As long as homeowners have underlying insurance (up to the specified limits), they don’t have to tell an insurer why they’re adding umbrella coverage.

Safety tips

Experts suggest five ways to reduce the chance of an injury for children using inflatable bounce houses.

1. Limit use to children 6 years old or older.

Children under 6 haven’t mastered the skills of hopping, skipping and jumping, Smith says. His recommendation is based on suggestions from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for trampoline use by children; the commissions does not have recommendations for bounce houses.

2. Require adult supervision.

An adult should help children get in and out of a bounce house safely and watch what’s going on inside. Remind children there should be no wrestling, roughhousing or flipping inside a bounce house, or jumping out of the bounce house, says Laura Woodburn, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials.

Playing rough and doing flips could cause a severe spinal cord injury if a child lands on his or her neck, Smith says. Woodburn says rules should be posted on or near the bounce house. Also, children should take off their shoes, glasses and jewelry and remove sharp objects from their pockets before entering a bounce house.

3. Read the manual.

Follow the weight and size limits to play in a bounce house and instructions for anchoring the bounce house, Woodburn says. Since bounce houses are filled with air, the wind could pick them up or blow them over.

4. Watch the numbers.

Having only one child in a bounce house at a time is preferred, but since most bouncers are designed to accommodate more than one kid, only let children of similar ages and sizes play in them to reduce the risk of injury, Smith says.

5. Use the experts.

If renting a bounce house, request a trained operator, Woodburn says. Also, ask to see a logbook that tracks a bounce house’s inspection history.

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