I would like to commend Iowa Reps. Jim Lykam, Phyllis Thede, Cindy Winckler and Frank Wood for voting against House File 158 that would extend immunity to municipalities for injuries and deaths resulting from sledding accidents on public property open to the public for sledding. (The bill passed the House, 55-45, and has been referred to the Senate judicial committee.)
As a practicing lawyer I can tell you from experience that this is one of those life and death issues, and they definitely did the right thing.
Approximately 15 years ago, I represented a young mother and wife against the City of Davenport. The sledding hill at Fejervary Park, as a result of the contour of the land, created a natural outrun that steered sleds and toboggans into a utility pole at the bottom of the hill. My client was killed when her toboggan veered off the path and into the utility pole. This same pole caused another sledder an hour later to break his leg. The second sledder did not know of my client’s experience just an hour earlier.
When I subpoenaed ambulance records and fire department records it was apparent that this pole had been responsible for serious injuries every year. An expert at trial testified that the unique contour of the land would cause sledders to steer into the pole even if they had tried to avoid it.
It was my position at trial that this tragedy could have been easily avoided had the city of Davenport paid attention to the injury history at Fejervary Park, which had been amply documented over the years. The city of Davenport settled midway through the trial.
The sledding public does not have the same access to information as municipalities. The municipalities have the ability to monitor accident patterns in their public parks and they alone can make corrective measures. But still our municipalities often fail to take even the most basic steps to keep sledders out of harm’s way. If we shield municipalities from full accountability when their negligence leads to serious injuries and deaths, it follows that we can expect them to take even fewer corrective measures, leading to even more deaths and injuries.
I am thankful that our local state representatives recognize this fact and voted to preserve their constituents’ rights.
Michael K. Bush