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Boy Hurt in Playground Fall Wins Settlement in Lawsuit

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The family of a 10-year-old District of Columbia boy who suffered severe brain damage when he fell eight feet onto the asphalt surface of a neighborhood playground four years ago has agreed to a settlement that could bring him as much as $15 million.

The settlement is thought to be the largest ever in a playground-injury case and could represent a turning point in litigating lawsuits of this kind, said the boy's lawyer, Mark J. Brice.

In addition, the case has already precipitated education campaigns about the hazards of playgrounds that should alert schools about the need to take extra precautions to protect students.

The suit "is a wake-up call for school administrators,'' said Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center.

"This will make all of us more conscious of our responsibility to insure the safety of recreation areas,'' said Lillian Brinkley, the former president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Ms. Brinkley is principal of the Willard Model School in Norfolk, Va.

"My playground is just as important as the classroom, and it is part of our responsibility to make sure everything is in working order,'' she said.

The Case

Tyrone Ferguson was injured four years ago while playing on equipment at a playground near the apartment complex where he lives. After tumbling eight feet and hitting his head on the asphalt surface, he lapsed into a weeklong coma and suffered internal bleeding and damage to his brain's frontal lobe.

The brain damage affects his mood and causes him to become extremely hyperactive and impulsive to the point of endangering himself and others. There is no known cure for his condition.

His family brought a civil suit against the apartment complex, the manufacturer of the playground equipment, and the architectural firm that designed the playground.

Under the settlement agreed to this month, the defendants must make an immediate payment of $302,000 to Tyrone, in addition to $125,000 for his medical expenses, and $40,000 a year until he reaches his 21st birthday. Following that, he will receive $216,708 a year for the remainder of his life, which could bring the total to $11 million.

In addition, he will receive a guaranteed $4.3 million.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that more than 247,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms last year for injuries related to playground equipment.

Last year, the academy launched a public-education campaign to call attention to the fact that 10,000 more children were injured on playgrounds that year than in 1990.

A decade ago, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned of the dangers of concrete, asphalt, and packed-earth surfacing on playgrounds. The commission recommends that wood chips, sand, or rubber matting be used as playground surfaces.--J.P.

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