Every day, clients walk into my office that have suffered life-altering accidents. And every night I go home to my wife and babies and I think about how I can protect them. I suspect that personal injury lawyers are probably the most over-insured people in North America!
But still, despite my extreme caution, even I can tell when a government has gone too far. When it comes to banning tobogganing, I think many municipalities have got it wrong.
My practice is located in Hamilton Ontario, and what many don’t realize is that Hamilton has had an out-right tobogganing ban for 15 years (accompanied with hefty penalties of up to $5k). But in 2013, the city was ordered pay a citizen $900,000 after he suffered a spinal injury tobogganing. There have been similar suits across North America.
I see this as proof that outright tobogganing bans are not the answer.
First of all, they don’t stop people from sledding as we’ve seen the many ‘Sled-Ins’ across Ontario in response to more recent bans.
Second of all, they don’t reduce the amount of accidents people have because, if a city has banned sledding altogether, they are not going to do anything to make sure that their hills are safe for sledding. It’s a catch-22.
Which brings us to the third reason. As we saw with the Uggenti V. Hamilton case mentioned above, even if they ban sledding, cities are not protected from liability. In case after case, we’ve seen people who were illegally sledding be awarded significant compensation at court.
I believe the real answer is two-fold:
We can’t ignore that sledding is a dangerous pastime, but we can make it safer.
I think that seriously dangerous toboggan hills should be fenced off – but that cities should provide alternatives and work to improve safety on those hills where kids regularly flock after each snowfall.
Vaughan did that after two kids were fatally injured while tobogganing back in 2007. Recognizing that they couldn’t do much to deter tobogganers, they worked to remove trees and obstacles and fix particularly dangerous parts.
The other side of the solution is public awareness. Just as wearing a bike helmet is now as common as wearing seatbelts in motor vehicles, I think we need to make sure that people practice safe tobogganing.
As a both a tobogganing aficionado AND a personal injury lawyer, I’ve come up with the list of safety tips you’ll want to read before you hit the slopes with your family:
- Never tobogganing while laying on your stomach (face first) or back (feet first). Always kneel or sit
- Never use your feet as brakes
- Many cities host websites that list the best and safest tobogganing runs (except for Hamilton, of course…) Check these sites to determine the safest hills for you and your young ones
- Wear a helmet. Hockey helmets provide the best protection but even a bike helmet is better than nothing
- Never toboggan on a hill beside a lake until the ice has been tested by the town’s fire department
- Here’s one from my own childhood that will resonate with your kids: Never toboggan on run nicknamed ‘Devil’s Elbow’ or anything with the name ‘devil’ in it! These hills usually earn their names as I learnt when I was 10 (and miraculously wasn’t injured)
- Only sled after a big snowfall. Once older snow gets compacted and turns to ice, it’s impossible to steer and too easy to lose control and ram into trees, rocks or other sledders
- Do a few solo runs yourself to test a new run before you let your kids go down. Hills can look deceivingly tame but once you put a well-waxed toboggan to snow…well…
- Speaking of that last one: Get out and toboggan with your kids! They’re probably going to do it with or without you, so you may as well join them. At least then you know they’re following the rules and, you never know, you just may enjoy yourself!