Tobogganing and sledding are a very popular winter activity for Canadians, but along with snowboarding and skiing, they are among the most dangerous winter sports not involving a motorized vehicle. Mild to moderate injuries are the most common type of injury experienced while sledding, and fatal injuries are very rare. Nevertheless, a significant number of people seek treatment every year in hospitals and doctor’s offices due to serious injuries, such as spinal injury, head or neck injury and broken bones, and sometimes, such injuries can be disabling and life-changing, particularly spinal or traumatic brain injuries. However, the good news is that most injuries are preventable with safe practices.
Tips to Avoid Sledding Injuries
1. Choose a slope with no obstacles. Most tobogganing injuries happen during icy conditions, when sledding over obstacles, or when the toboggan and rider strikes a tree, motorized vehicle or another object. So, the most effective way to prevent injury is to choose a safe venue for tobogganing, in an open area devoid of trees, large rocks and other obstacles.
2. Monitor for other sledders. Children 14 and under are far more likely to incur sledding injuries, so it’s important to supervise young children and teach them to follow safe tobogganing practices, which includes waiting until other sledders are safely out of the way before starting down the hill. Children should also be taught to get out of the way of other sledders and ideally, walk up the side of a hill where sledders are not riding down.
3. A long and safe run-out. Tobogganing should only be attempted on hills that have a long and barrier-free run-out at the bottom. Never sled on a slope which enters onto a street and where there is a risk of colliding with a car. It’s also not a good idea to toboggan where there is a pond or another body of water at the bottom of the hill, even if you think the water is frozen.
4. Don’t sled on ice. Generally avoid tobogganing during icy conditions when it’s more difficult, if not impossible, to control the direction and speed of the toboggan.
5. Wear a helmet. Due to the high risk of head injuries, wearing a proper helmet is a particularly good idea for children and can help avoid a debilitating brain injury.
6. Feet first. Another tip to reduce the risk of injury is to use toboggans that can be steered, rather than plastic sheets or carpets which really can’t be controlled and may be pierced by sharp objects. And, everyone should ride their toboggan by sitting in a forward position, not head first, to reduce the risk of serious injury.
7. Don’t drink and sled. Like many other sports, tobogganing is more dangerous when adults are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as this often leads to more risky behaviours and failure to ensure that the hill conditions are safe.
8. Don’t toboggan at night when it’s impossible to see dangers or obstacles.
Likely the most important element in a safe tobogganing experience is the location. But, sometimes a hill that, at first sight, seems to be a safe venue for sledding has dangers that are not clearly visible, such as ditches hidden beneath the snow. This was the circumstance that caused serious injury to a Hamilton man.
Tobogganing Injury Case: Uggenti v. City of Hamilton
In 2013, a man who was seriously injured in a tobogganing accident on a reservoir property owned by the City of Hamilton, won an injury lawsuit against the Municipality. The man became injured when he and his wife were thrown from their toboggan after crashing into the edge of a snow-covered ditch, during their first run down the hill.
The Arbitrator who decided the case found the City wholly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, noting that the plaintiff was not aware of the risk of hitting the snow-covered ditch, which was a hidden danger and a risk not inherent to the sport of tobogganing, Further, the City failed to take reasonable steps to warn potential tobogganers about the danger, of which the City was aware.
The Court awarded the injured man (the plaintiff) $482,657 in damages, as well as $100,000 in damages to the plaintiff’s wife for housekeeping and child care costs. The City appealed the judgement but lost their appeal.
If you were injured in a sledding accident or another activity likely resulting from an unsafe condition caused by a negligent party, talk to an experienced Hamilton injury lawyer to find out if you have a good case for damages and what’s involved in obtaining compensation for losses resulting from your injury.