Legal Lis: The War on Sledding


No, you didn’t misread that headline; there is a war of sorts on sledding. When I think about the winters of my childhood, there are no shortage of wonderful memories involving a huge hill, snow, and a sled. When you’re a kid, there’s nothing quite like the momentary freedom of zooming down a snow-covered slope. So it saddens me to say that the list of cities that are banning or limiting sledding in parks is growing with every year.

Can you imagine what it would be like if years from now, most parks no longer allow sledding? I sure can’t. And I hate to think that it might be a reality.

The truth is, though, that with all the magic that comes with sledding, there are also some risks. Hitting a tree, plowing into a sign, or running into an unsuspecting person – these are all possibilities when you climb atop a sled and nudge it over the edge. In fact, a recent study found that between 1997 and 2007, more than 20,000 children were treated for sledding-related accidents per year.

But this risk is not the reason (or at least not the only one) that cities are deciding to ban or limit sledding in parks. You see, after a person is injured, some people decide to sue. And there have been cases in which cities have to pay a lot of money as a result of sledding injuries.

Two examples:

1. A City of Omaha, Nebraska lawsuit –

In 2000, father Timothy Connelly decided to take his five-year-old and ten-year-old daughters sledding at Memorial Park. He picked out the right slope for the task, got his daughters all set on a saucer-like sled, and watched them careen down the hill. Unfortunately, the sled went off course, and with no steering, the girls had no way to correct it. They hit a tree, resulting in injuries to both daughters, and permanent paralysis for one of them.

The Supreme Court of Nebraska ultimately found, “Generally, when the danger posed by a condition is open and obvious, the owner or occupier is not liable for harm caused by the condition. But the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A, which we have adopted, states that despite this general rule, the landowner may be liable if the landowner ‘should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.’”

Essentially, despite the fact that Connelly likely did observe the trees and that they posed some risk, the city could be – and was – held liable. In the end, a $2 million judgment was entered against Omaha.

2. A Sioux City, Iowa suit –

In 2008, David Rosalez, 38, injured his spinal cord when he slid into a parking sign while sledding with his family in Sertoma Park. A lawsuit was brought by Rosalez, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident. The City Council agreed in 2012 to settle a lawsuit by paying $487,632. The city’s insurance carrier agreed to pay another $1.97 million, and a third party was to pay $300,000, for a total settlement of $2.75 million.

So, when faced with the threat of liability as a result of a sledding accident, many cities are deciding to get rid of the risk. Sadly, playing it safe also means the loss of a wonderful winter activity.

What do you think about the war on sledding?

Hear more of my thoughts on the Legal Lis podcast: 

One thought on “Legal Lis: The War on Sledding”

  1. War on sledding. Wow. It’s an innocent and joyous time……….then this happens.

    What on earth goes through peoples minds when they get the sense to blame another for something they have control over. Control to sled or not to sled. There is a degree of risk to everything. Whether every square inch of a park or ball field has signs tacked up saying, “Use at your own risk” it’s a simple known fact that sledding may cause some harm.

    In this case blame and sue? I simply don’t understand the human thought of feeling “Entitled”

    What about off season at beaches when there are signs for “No lifeguard on duty. Swim at your own risk.”

    I don’t know. I’m in the northeast on the coast and the snow is great.

    Nice podcast, Lis.

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