The recent snowstorm gave plenty of New York children an opportunity for fun, but a growing number of municipalities are deciding to ban kids from downhill sledding. The idea is not embraced by most city councils, but many places have decided that the risk of a multi-million-dollar injury lawsuit is too great.
It is sad that a cost-free pastime may become privatized – and presumably cost money – but about 1,000 U.S. children visit emergency rooms each year for sledding injuries. Concussions and brain injuries are common, as few people where helmets. A Long Island teen died several days ago when he hit a streetlight while snow-tubing.
When a child is seriously injured while sledding on government property, it does not necessarily mean that his family be able to win a municipal liability lawsuit. Like all personal injury claims, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant (city) acted negligently.
Imagine that a municipality allows children to sled on a hill that has no trees and is not particularly steep. Signs are posted nearby, saying that unhelmeted sledding is not permitted. Police routinely enforce the rule. If someone is hurt on this hill, do you think it would be easy to hold the city liable?
Contrast that with a situation where children sled on a public hill that has only a small area clear of trees. The hill is extremely popular after school and on weekends. Some days, there are so many people sledding that they occupy the entire cleared area, including the edges. If a child bounced into a tree in this situation, do you think the city could be held liable for injuries?
There are no clear rules and answers. This is why local lawmakers are opting to ban the popular recreational activity and avoid the risk of draining municipal coffers through sledding lawsuits.