In 1975 or thereabouts, three young boys enjoyed racing on a toboggan down the hills on the farm where they lived in southern Iowa.
If they were to do it again 40 years later in a growing list of Iowa cities and counties, they would be breaking the law. Iowa, a place where snow happens, is becoming a place that has outlawed sledding because it could lead to accidents that could result in lawsuits — or at least the threat thereof.
Last week, it was the City Council in Dubuque, Iowa, which banned sledding in all but two of the city’s parks.
This is happening, according to Iowa Public Radio, because of lawsuits in other Iowa communities:
Sioux City was involved in a nearly $2.8 million lawsuit after a man was paralyzed when he crashed into a stop sign. And in Boone, a young girl slid into a concrete barrier covered with snow and was awarded $12 million.
Someone caught violating the sledding ban in Dubuque will be given a warning the first time, but could be fined $750 for repeat violations, according to news reports.
“City leaders say the rules will help protect Dubuque from any lawsuits should a sledder get hurt.
“Council members urged people who are upset about the ban, to contact Iowa state lawmakers.
“Iowa law protects cities from liability in the event someone gets hurt on city property while biking, skating or skateboarding. But there’s no protection if someone gets hurt while sledding. Some lawmakers attempted to fix that during the 2013 legislative session, but the bill failed.”
For a response to all of this, let’s turn to Dick the butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
And then perhaps we should start in on the insurance companies.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that bad things sometimes happen to good people. And accidents never will be completely avoidable. What’s even more unfortunate is the immediate response to sue when something bad happens.
Now, back to 1975, or thereabouts, when my parents gave me and my brothers a toboggan for Christmas.
We lived on a farm in southern Iowa and we were surrounded by hills, including a nice one owned by Gerald Krutsinger, one of our neighbors. The bottom of that hill was across the road from our house, maybe 200 yards from our back door. It was perfect for three boys with a new toboggan.
But even someone from town could have identified the bottom of this hill as the edge of our neighbor’s pasture because of the barbed wire fence he put up to keep his cows from grazing in our backyard. As I recall, the bottom strand of wire was just far enough above the ground for three boys on a new toboggan to lay down flat and not get hung up as they raced down the hill and under the fence.
It was the scooting under the fence at the bottom of the hill that made the whole experience even more fun.
Well, at least it did until Mom caught us not getting caught up in the barbed wire and made us stop because of what could have happened. (We may have made a few more later trips whenever we thought she wasn’t watching.)
But even if something bad had happened, my parents would have dealt with their sons for doing something stupid and not doing what they were told. The neighbor would not have been sued.
It was a simpler time, I guess. I’m glad to have lived through it. Everyone should get to race down the biggest hill that is closest to their back doors — especially if there is even a suggestion of danger waiting for them at the bottom.