Following Region Media‘s report on Tahlia Floyer’s accident and injuries on the largest of Kambah Adventure Park’s flying foxes, it turned out she wasn’t the first person to have been seriously injured on the equipment, and many in the community are worried she won’t be the last.
Two concerned mothers want to see the popular playground equipment closed until it has been assessed and made safer.
Last month, Tahlia, aged 14, reached the end of the flying fox with such force she was flung into the ground head first. The impact broke three vertebrae and saw her taken away in an ambulance to Canberra Hospital before being airlifted to Westmead Hospital in Sydney.
Her surgeon described her as “very lucky to be alive”, and she will be in a brace for 12 months.
Two months earlier in July, Florence Ho tried it out to make sure it was suitable for her two daughters. She, too, was caught off-guard by the abrupt end, crash-landing on her shoulder.
She had to have four screws and two rods surgically placed in her back and still finds it difficult to sleep at night on account of the pain.
Florence and Tahlia’s mother contacted ACT City Services and Access Canberra in the aftermath of their accidents, but received little response.
Both mothers also reached out to personal injury lawyers but were told there was no case to be made as signage on site warns of risks associated with using the equipment.
The ACT Government said the Kambah Adventure Playground is inspected twice a week by qualified playground inspectors for any safety or maintenance issues, that no problems have been identified following the inspections, and the equipment meets current Australian Playground Standards.
“The ACT Government has contacted one of the people involved to follow up on the incident and are yet to contact another,” a spokesperson said.
However, another case from 11 years ago suggests the equipment may still carry intrinsic safety issues.
Twelve-year-old Amy Lester was at a birthday party at the Kambah Adventure Park in February 2010 when the now-familiar story unfolded.
Her mother, Bec Lester, says Amy ended up with compact fractures of the spine and a broken collar bone. She was in Canberra Hospital for six weeks, flat on her back, before being sent home in a back brace and a wheelchair.
“We approached lawyers to see if we had a case against the ACT Government, and they took us on straight away,” Bec says.
While Bec waited to see what complications developed as Amy grew older, the lawyers organised assessments of the flying fox, even bringing in a park designer and engineer from Adelaide.
“He came back with a report detailing how and why the flying fox was unsafe and didn’t meet playground safety standards, raising issues about the height, the lack of soft-fall material underneath, the proximity of the concrete edging, and the tension in the wire.”
The flying fox was closed for a brief period and a sign was installed warning of the risks, but Bec says that as far as she knows, none of the other issues have ever been addressed.
The two parties went to a mediation hearing in 2014 and agreed to settle out of court. Amy received a compensation payout from the ACT Government.
Snedden Hall and Gallop lawyers director Amber Wang says it is not uncommon for their firm to receive enquiries for children and adults injured in ACT playgrounds.
She says the Territory has a duty of care towards all playground users and that the signage and regular inspections are part of this duty of care.
The injured person would therefore need to prove negligence on the part of the government. Only then would they have a case to claim for compensation under common law.
“To determine this, it is important to consider what caused or contributed to the incident, whether the risk of injury was significant and foreseeable, the social utility of the equipment, and what precautions could have been taken to prevent the incident occurring,” Amber says.
“There are strict time limits to commence these claims, so it is best to seek legal advice promptly following injury.”
All three mothers reiterate that they don’t want to see the flying fox so much removed as closed temporarily so it can be assessed and altered.
“If this is ongoing, and people are breaking their backs, why the heck is it still there as it is?” Bec says.