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Sledding Accidents: How a Timeless Winter Tradition Can Go Wrong

By Lependorf & Silverstein on December 10, 2017

If you’re from New Jersey, or anywhere in the northern United States for that matter, sledding is an important annual tradition—and a rite of passage for children. Well, it is that time of year again.

Fun is important, but so is staying safe. Sledding can be dangerous, and we want to remind you of that fact.

Sledding Is Dangerous?

Yep. According to an NBC News article, approximately 20,000 kids a year are hurt when sledding and 9% suffer a traumatic brain injury. To give you some perspective, traumatic brain injuries mean sudden brain dysfunction, and are often caused by a stroke or serious motor vehicle crash. Although sledding doesn’t cause the highest number of injuries among children, 20,000 injuries is a significant number when kids go sledding only a couple of times each year. Common sledding injuries include fractures, bruises, abrasions, cuts, and sprains.

Just as there are factors that make playing sports more dangerous, there are factors that contribute to your likelihood of injury when sledding:

  • Sledding head-first puts one’s head in a more vulnerable position. Always sled feet-first.
  • Sledding accidents often involve a collision with a fixed object. Choose a sledding location that is free of trees, poles, and other objects.
  • Sledding near streets or highways can lead to collision with a car. Avoid sledding near these areas.
  • Pulling a sled behind a vehicle can end in many injuries because of the high speed and poor visibility involved. Do not use a vehicle to pull someone on a sled.

While this advice may seem like common sense to you, it is important to explain these rules to your children and teenagers. An extreme example of sledding gone wrong involved twin teenaged brothers in Calgary, Alberta, who died after using a personal sled to go down a luge-bobsled track. While teenagers are often difficult to convince, you need to talk with them about how something as seemingly innocent as sledding or tobogganing can be fatal.

Quick Figures

In case the information above has not swayed you, consider these statistics from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio’s study of sledding injuries from 1997-2007. In that 10-year period:

  • 229,023 of the injuries that occurred were serious enough to warrant emergency room treatment.
  • 26% of the injuries were fractures.
  • 34% of the injuries involved the head.
  • 1% of emergency room visits required hospitalization.

Is Anyone Liable?

If a sledding injury does occur, multiple factors may have contributed to the accident, thus making several parties liable. For example, if a child is injured in a sledding accident at a local public park, one could argue under a certain set of circumstances that the city is liable for not putting safety elements in place. If the sled the child was riding broke or caused the accident through a defect, the sled manufacturer could also be liable. If the accident happened at school under the supervision of school staff, the school may be considered liable.

Essentially, the owner of the property and the equipment the child used to sled are most likely to be liable for a sledding accident.

What About Sledding Bans?

Sledding injuries are sometimes so serious that cities introduce sledding bans. Sometimes this legislation bans sledding only at specific parks (like Monteville’s Camp Dawson Hill); sometimes it bans sledding in entire cities. It is unlikely, but if sledding is banned where you live, try to find a safe, object-free private hill where your children can sled. Always supervise them.

Why would sledding be banned on a specific hill or property? The owner may be preemptively trying to avoid liability. Maybe there’s a history of accidents in that spot, and it’s unusually dangerous? Maybe they already paid a multi-million dollar lawsuit? If sledding is banned, that is probably proof that a location is unsafe for sledding, and you should find another place for your kids to have their snowy fun.

As a parent, it might seem disheartening that sledding is another “danger” to add to the list from which you need to protect your kids. The good news, however, is that almost all reported sledding accidents are due to something preventable, like proximity to the street or collisions with objects. If you take the proper precautions, you can still have fun, and we encourage you to get active as the winter weather descends on Princeton!

If you or your child was injured in a sledding accident because of someone else, feel free to call us at Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., (609) 240-0040. Our personal injury attorneys will talk with you at no charge and discuss your legal options.

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Posted in: Child Injuries

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