Dubuque wants sledding liability immunity from state - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque wants sledding liability immunity from state

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When it comes to outdoor activities on public property in Iowa, everything from bicycling and skateboarding to canoeing and even unicycling is at one's own risk. That's all according to state code.

However, the law does not give cities liability immunity from sledding-related accidents.

Dubuque's Bunker Hill public golf course is a popular winter destination for sledders of all ages. The city has a sign up there, establishing a few safety rules. Those can help protect sledders, of course, but they can also help protect the city and, ultimately, taxpayer dollars, in case a sledding accident there were to lead to a lawsuit.

Bunker Hill was awash with sledders Thursday morning, as kids and adults alike enjoyed the winter wonderland.

Justin Vetsch and his four-year-old stepson Theo came out for some fun.

"I think this is the best hill in town," Vetsch said. "We live only a minute away, which is really nice, so it's fun when we have the day off to come here and go sledding."

As any parent knows, fun and safety go hand-in-hand, but accidents still do happen.

"If you have your head down, you're walking up the hill, you might get hit by somebody else," Vetsch said. "Sometimes control is a problem on these big hills."

A little bit of tumbling is part of the fun, but Dubuque's city attorney Barry Lindahl said other cities in Iowa have recently faced major lawsuits, following sledding accidents that have resulted in serious head injuries.

"Sioux City had a multi-million-dollar damage lawsuit," Lindahl said. "Boone, I'm told, had a $12 million settlement, so when you see what's happening, there is a substantial exposure for cities."

Under Iowa law, cities have immunity, generally, for certain activities on city property, such as bicycling or kayaking. Dubuque included in its 2014 legislative priorities a push to get the Iowa legislature to add sledding to that list.

"We can't be out there all the time, supervising, inspecting, so we really have to do something to try our best to limit the city's exposure," Lindahl said.

It's something Vetsch said he wouldn't mind.

"I don't think it'd be fair for the city to be liable. Otherwise, they would have to have somebody out here everyday," Vetsch said. "I'm grateful that the city lets us come out here and go sledding, and I think everybody out here would tell you the same thing."

He said common sense and being careful can go a long way in preventing accidents.

According to WebMD, some 20,000 children visit the emergency room every year for sledding-related injuries.

Several cities in Iowa tried getting legislators to change the state code last year, but the measure didn't go through. Lindahl said if it doesn't pass this year, he may recommend to council members limiting the city's public sledding locations and hours.

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