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Determining Fault for an Injury Caused by a Falling Museum Display

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listen who said “I saw on the news where a museum display toppled over and injured a child who touched the display, who is legally responsible when such things happen?”

I read that same story about an Overland Park Kansas 5-year-old boy who was at the museum with his mom, when an exhibit piece accidently toppled onto him.

The video released by the museum on social media made the mom out to be a bad parent for not paying attention to what her child was doing. Well, being that 5-year-olds are curious about everything and like to climb on things…the piece ultimately fell, and was damaged.

The museum is blaming the mom for not keeping the boy in check. And, insisting the family pay $132,000 for the replacement cost of the broken sculpture. Now, was the family at fault? Some might think so. And, the video does show the sculpture being knocked over by the boy.

But, there were a few things left out of the viral video…

(1) there was a bridal shower going on in the museum

(2) and also a birthday party,

(3) the sculpture that was broken was not in any way, shape or form secured for safety,

(4) nor was protective glass placed around it.

And, you would think that being a museum they would have at least put up “Do Not Touch” signs so parents could warn their kids not to poke and prod exhibits.

Well, the museum sent Sarah Goodman (the mother of the offending child) an invoice for $132,000 and yes, demanded she promptly pay.

Now, in the normal course of breakage within a museum or commercial enterprise typically insurance is called upon to cover injuries or damages.

So, why make an individual pay?

In this case, the insurance company didn’t feel it was justified that they cover their client’s damages when it was, in fact, a curious child that broke the piece while the mother was distracted.

Yet, if the child was seriously injured in anyway because the museum didn’t take safety precautions the $132,000 would no longer be an issue. And most likely the museum and their insurance carrier would be on the hook for thousands if not millions in a personal injury trial case.

This matter reminds me of a Television Tip Over Case which resulted in the death of a child.

A television weighing 92 lbs. fell from a dresser resulting in a fatal head injury to an infant playing in front of the television on a play blanket spread on the floor. Analysis of the stability of the television established that as little force as 10 lbs. applied at the top of the television, where the channel and volume controls are located, will cause the television to tip. Like many similar televisions, the subject television did not contain any on product warnings relative to a tip-over hazard, nor any other appropriate warnings of any sort disclosing the hazard.

Although the museum piece is not a television, in both cases, the sculpture and television where placed on top of other items (a pedestal and a dresser) that created a potential tip over hazard, injury and or death.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at www.DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.