SLIPPERY SLOPE: Concerns Over Sledding Liability

New signs warn people in Des Moines that they are sledding at their own risk.

The signs went up after other cities paid out multimillion-dollar awards to people who sued after they got injured while sledding

Some leaders argue that signs aren`t enough and that the state legislature needs to step in and save a wintertime tradition for future generations.

So far, the signs are all that has changed. “We`re not providing any supervision, we`re not grooming the hills, we`re just making sure that citizens understand they`re doing it at their own risk,” said Des Moines City Councilwoman, Christine Hensley.

The signs are intended to protect Des Moines from the type of lawsuits seen in others cities, recently, but probably can`t.

“Eventually cities are just going to feel compelled to shut down their sledding hills,” said Alan Kemp, the executive director of Iowa’s League of Cities. “It becomes too great of a liability to take on.”

Laws already protect Iowa cities if people hurt themselves bicycling, canoeing, kayaking and even unicycling.

But sledding is a little different.

“You really don`t have any idea of what engineering standards there are for a sledding hill, at this point,” Kenp said.

In 2008, Boone paid $12 million to an injured sledder.  In 2012, Sioux City paid almost $500,000. In both of those years, bills intended to protect cities from sledding lawsuits died in the State House.  This year, Sioux City will ask its legislators to take up the fight again, and others will be watching.

“I’m sure that we’ll look at it very seriously,” Hensley said, “and it will be something that we’ll probably be very supportive of.”

For now, cities can only continue the balancing act between potential risks in court and guaranteed fun in the snow.  And hope that the new addition to the scenery is enough to prevent things from going downhill.

The city of Des Moines has no designated sledding hills, but it has placed its warning signs at the most commonly used public areas.  City attorney, Jeff Lester, could not be reached for comment.