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OFF BEAT: Iowa not starting down slippery slope of sledding litigation


Municipal risk managers in Iowa hoping for new protections against the litigious parents of sledding youngsters were rebuked on Tuesday, as a measure releasing cities of liability for injuries sustained on public property failed in the state Legislature.

The Iowa House Judiciary Committee returned a tie vote on the measure Tuesday morning, according to a report. Members of the committee raised concerns that the new law would place an undue legal or financial burden on families who allow their children to sled on city-owned property, RadioIowa reported.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop or start sledding, one way or another,” said state Rep. Jo Oldson, a Democratic from Iowa House District 61, according to RadioIowa. “And basically what it’s doing is transferring the liability back to an individual, most likely a child.”

Republican Rep. Dave Heaton, 71, said prior to the committee’s vote that he feared the law did not take into account fundamental changes in the nature of sledding over the years, particularly the design and speed capabilities of today’s sleds.

“I’m thinking of my old Coaster, you know, the one where you could steer it, but now when I see what they’re doing out there on this lake that we can cross out there in Clive (Iowa), they’re on these discs, and spew!” Rep. Heaton said. “With that lack of control, all of a sudden I’m starting to say, ‘I don’t know whether I want to go this route.’”

However, some members of the committee argued that it was the state’s cities and towns that were being unduly burdened by the high cost of injury litigation, especially considering the inherently voluntary nature of the act, according to RadioIowa.

“I cannot understand why any city or municipality should be responsible for and legally liable for a child that decides to get on a disc just because they want to tumble off of it,” said Republican Rep. Chip Baltimore.

Members also grappled with the question of whether there exists a legally enforceable definition of sledding that could be applied to the proposed law. According to RadioIowa, Republican Rep. Chris Hagenow, joked that sledding, for legal purposes, was similar to pornography in that one might not be able to define it, but can clearly recognize it on sight.

“Among other things, (it is) included but not limited to getting onto some sort of flat, slippery piece of equipment and heading down a hill that’s covered with snow,” Rep. Hagenow said.

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