Free-Range Kids

Towns Are Banning Sledding Because Parents Sue When Kids Get Hurt

"Ensure all sledding equipment is in good condition, with no cracks or sharp edges."


A friend who was noodling around the AccuWeather Inc. website today found this depressing item: "Why Have Midwestern Towns Banned a Beloved Winter Pastime?"

The article, which seems like it might just sit in a slush pile on the site's news desk and await recycling every snow season, discusses a few horrible sledding injury lawsuits that drained the coffers of Omaha, Nebraska and Sioux City, Iowa.

"According to a study from The Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at Nationwide Children's Hospital, more than 20,000 Americans younger than age 19 receive treatment for sledding-related injuries each year," notes the article.

It goes on to offer tips from the National Safety Council:

To ensure safety, the group suggests that parents ensure all sledding equipment is in good condition, with no cracks or sharp edges.

The council also suggests selecting "spacious, gently sloping hills with a level run-off at the end so the sled can safely stop" and to inspect the slopes prior to check for gaps, fences or anything else that could obstruct the ride. It also warns against sledding near frozen bodies of water.


[D]o not leave children under the age of 10 to sled unattended.

Also, buy sleds with brakes and steering mechanisms:

[T]hey're very much worth the investment."

Turning a sickly shade of green with pointy fingers and an evil grin, I must now rant about everything that is wrong about this article, this advice, this country, and (go big or go to Whoville), this world.

What is Grinch-ifying me? That fact that people can sue the town when their kid gets hurt sledding. This forces local officials to simply ban the activity, because it's not worth the financial risk.

But is a town always to blame when someone gets hurt? The belief that there is a culprit (and potential pot of gold) behind every injury means every person and group has to adopt a litigious mentality and forbid a bunch of normal activities, for fear of litigation. (See this article on a school that won't let kids walk home without a chaperone.)

The sledding advice is also impractical. It makes it sound like good parents spend days hunting for the perfect hill that they must inspect for landmines.  Can't kids select their own hill? Then the parents are supposed to stick around for a decade until their kids turn 10. Similarly, the idea that the parents have to check the equipment for sharp edges is beyond annoying—it's paranoid. We now think of kids as always endangered, and their stuff as always untrustworthy unless literally brand new.

Note the source of this advice: Nationwide, a hospital named for an insurance company that donated $50 million. Here is a partial list of studies conducted by Nationwide Hospital's Gary Smith: "Microwave Oven-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments in the United States, 1990-2010;" "Softball Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments, 1994-2010;" "Volleyball-Related Injuries…"; "Safety Interventions and Liquid Laundry Detergent Packet Exposures…"; "Stair-Related Injuries to Young Children…"; and possibly my favorite: "Children Treated in United States Emergency Departments for Door-Related Injuries, 1999-2008."

Scary to think that some kids might not only go sledding on an improperly sloping hill—on a sled that doesn't even have mechanical breaks—but then the little adrenaline junkies might walk through a door on their way back inside the house.

To summarize: Take precautions. Buy insurance. Say your prayers.

Oh, and have fun!