Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear of Sledding

The AP reports on a trend in American cities to ban sledding in public parks:
[F]aced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims.No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks."We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them," said Marie Ware, Dubuque's leisure services manager. "We can't manage the risk at all of those places. . . ." 
City officials pointed to judgments in sledding lawsuits in the past decade, such as a $2 million judgment against Omaha, Nebraska, after a 5-year-old girl was paralyzed when she hit a tree and a $2.75 million payment when a man in Sioux City, Iowa, slid into a sign and injured his spinal cord.
Gag me. What Will Wilkinson says:
Americans are not so much unusually litigious as unusually fearful, and this fearfulness extends to the prospect of lawsuits. The occasional jaw-dropping award in a personal injury or class-action lawsuit creates, like the occasional terrorist attack, a salient sense of pervasive danger. It's not that Dubuque or Des Moines suddenly faces a new and extraordinary risk of getting sued into oblivion. It's just that the risk, as small as it is, now looms larger in the imagination, becoming too great for the no-longer-bold American spirit to bear. Shutting down sledding hills is inspired by the same sort of simpering caution that keeps Americans shoeless in airport security lines and, closer to home, keeps parents from letting their kids walk a few blocks to school alone, despite the fact that America today is as safe as the longed-for "Leave It to Beaver" golden age.
If Americans want to be free we have to stop being such a bunch of cowards.

7 comments:

G. Verloren said...

"If Americans want to be free we have to stop being such a bunch of cowards."

The problem is, the city governments are 100% making the right call given the circumstances. In a legal system where cities are held accountable for the actions and mishaps of individuals, there's no other option than to cover their asses and do whatever it takes to ensure they cannot be held liable. There's just no way to maintain a treasury and a budget if any idiot who hurts themselves on city property can sue for millions.

In my eyes, the problem is entirely with our culture of passing the buck and not holding individuals accountable for their own actions, compounded by a broken legal system. Profit driven lawyers, politically motivated judges, ignorance guided juries, and an ever growing legal precedent of individuals not being held responsible for their own choices.

If you sled down a snow-covered hill in a public park and hit a tree, it is in no way the fault of the city. You might as well sue the growers who supplied the original tree, sapling, or seed; or the laborers who planted it; or the truckers who delivered it; or the landscaper who chose the spot for it; or the groundskeeper who had it trimmed and tended back to health to instead of just cutting it down the year prior when it got struck by lightning.

If there's any cowardice at work, it's contained entirely in the fact that this farce is allowed to continue - that we let people get away with this insanity, and that we let the legal system allow it to happen. But if fixing our judicial workings was easy, we'd have done it long ago. So what good is it to complain about things, unless someone has a suggestion for how to actually FIX them?

pootrsox said...

I don't always agree with Mr/Ms Verloren, but in this case I believe the nail has been firmly hit upon its head!

Shadow Flutter said...

"You might as well sue the growers who supplied the original tree, sapling, or seed; or the laborers who planted it; or the truckers who delivered it; or the landscaper who chose the spot for it . . . "

Don't give anyone ideas.

John said...

The risk to cities from such lawsuits is in fact negligible, and can be insured against. We like to blame runaway juries for our problems, but whatever harm they do is multiplied a hundredfold by our fear that such a rare event might happen to us. Changing city policy from fear of these highly publicized lawsuits is like refusing to fly from fear of highly publicized plane crashes.

G. Verloren said...

"The risk to cities from such lawsuits is in fact negligible, and can be insured against."

I admit my own ignorance on the matter, but can you provide a citation to this claim? We've got a direct quote from the "Leisure Services Manager" of Dubuque, Iowa stating that they cannot "manage the risk", which I assume to mean they cannot reasonably afford the legal liability of allowing sledding in their parks. No offense, but why exactly should I take your word over that of Ms. Ware?

I personally don't know where to even start researching how much it would cost them to get insured, but I did at least find a copy of the Dubuque budget to serve as a baseline for comparison once I have some insurance numbers. I also looked up statistics about the size and population of Dubuque, as well as some maps of parks and general topology. If you can supply me with verifiable numbers for the liability costs, then (assuming they aren't obviously insignificant) I can start doing some back of the envelope calculations and comparing in depth.

Shadow Flutter said...

Evidently municipality and county insurance has skyrocketed since 9/11, forcing many towns and counties to opt out and self-insure instead. West Hartford, a town of about 65,000, pays a little more than $500,000 a year in liability, property, and causalty claims. That sounds like a lot to me.

Here is an NYT article from 2013 on the insurance problem.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/nyregion/high-costs-force-towns-to-self-insure.html

SavageJay said...

" In a legal system where cities are held accountable for the actions and mishaps of individuals"

That is a ridiculous statement when you read the case where the girl was paralyzed and why. Per usual the circumstances or much more complicated than what "sensationalized" news is giving you... no surprise there... the trees were planted as a reforestation project and the location of the sledding hill was ignored.

http://www.parksandrecreation.org/2012/October/Obvious-Tree-Hazard-on-Park-Sledding-Hill/