Beach Town Bans Kids' Street Games

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - Traditional games like street hockey and stickball aren't just for kids anymore. According to one New Jersey mayor, personal injury lawyers might want in on the action, too.

"If one of those kids gets hit by a vehicle, you know who, in this litigious society, is going to get sued," said Long Beach Township Mayor James J. Mancini. "The township, for allowing such a thing."

In order to protect this seaside resort town and its taxpayers from lawsuits, Mancini "reaffirmed" a resolution banning children from playing in the street.

The resolution bans "organized" and "unorganized" games in the street during the summer months, and specifically prohibits kids from playing football, hockey, kickball and basketball.

"You can't just set up a football field with goal posts in the middle of the street, hockey games with goal and right in the middle of the street, at anytime," Mancini said. "Streets are for automobiles."

Will a kid playing 'catch' be fined or arrested? "I doubt if he'd get stopped," Mancini said. "Every time you go five miles per hour over the speed limit, have you been stopped?"

Parents 'Aren't Capable' of Policing Kids

With summertime traffic already at a record high, Mancini said the heavy flow of tourists in and out of the resort town poses serious risks to the safety of kids, and he said local parents aren't capable of keeping their kids from playing in the streets.

"That doesn't work," Mancini said. In fact, he believes that having local police patrol the streets for juvenile offenders is in the best interest of everyone.

"It's for their safety because if one got hit by a car, I would really have that on my conscience," Mancini said. "That's why we have to do what we're doing."

He said the anti-street playing resolution is no different than laws designed to prevent drunk driving and illegal drug use.

"Do you think we should do away with all of them (sic) laws so the parents could take care of them," Mancini asked. "Not as long as I'm around."

The mayor's conscience aside, there are also possible legal ramifications, and he said it's not uncommon to see billboards in his town advertising the legal service of personal injury lawyers.

"If you fall down in a Macy's department store, you can make yourself a million dollars," Mancini said. The same logic holds true when a kid gets hit by a car while playing in the street, he claimed.

Mancini believes that banning kids from playing in the streets will protect the town's taxpayers from having their money spent on lawsuits. "Ninety-nine percent of my taxpayers are fully in favor of this," he said.

Don't Blame the Lawyers

Mancini's concerns revolve around child safety and keeping his town out of court, but an official with a national legal group says the town doesn't have to worry about lawyers.

"Lawyers don't instigate lawsuits," said Association of Trial Lawyers in America spokesman Carlton Carl. "People who cause injuries to other people cause lawsuits."

If a child is hit by a car while playing catch on a street in Mancini's town, Carl said that doesn't automatically imply the driver is guilty. "It depends on the circumstances," he said.

"If the driver is at fault, then presumably, the driver would be held accountable in court," Carl said. But there's always the chance that the city could be held accountable, he added.

For example, Carl said Long Beach Township could be held liable if there weren't any proper warning signs at the scene of the accident.

"A kid who is injured because the city didn't take the right precautions shouldn't be blamed for having suffered an injury," Carl said. "It's the city's job to take reasonable precautions to protect its citizens."

"When those things don't happen," he said, "we have a legal system that is equipped to hold wrong doers responsible and to provide justice to those who are injured through no fault of their own."

In some respects, local residents are going to be involved one way or another, Carl said. "In any case that goes to trial, it's a jury, it's the citizens of that town, who are going to be hearing all of the facts and making a judgment."

"Either the town trusts its citizens or it doesn't," Carl said.

E-mail a news tip to Michael L. Betsch.

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