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Towns Ban Sledding Over Liability and Lawsuit Fears

A New York teen's death this week in a sledding accident brought renewed attention to a growing debate over the risks, and costs.
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A Long Island, New York teenager's sledding death this week brought renewed attention to the dangers associated with the cherished childhood activity.

Every year, more American towns pass sledding restrictions, hoping to avoid costly lawsuits. The last was Dubuque, Iowa, which banned sledding on most municipal property. "We're worried about litigation about the city not doing their research or their work to prepare sledding areas for sledders and making the city liable for the accidents that would occur on those properties," Mayor Roy Buol told NBC News. He'd like to see states exempt municipalities from sledding-related lawsuits.

In a 2010 study, The Center for Injury Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found sledding accidents led to more than 20,000 emergency room visits a year. The center recommends wearing helmets and avoiding hills with trees, fences, light poles or rocks.

Some parents say they appreciate the emphasis on safety, and the effort to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for legal settlements. But others lament that all the research and rule-making are squeezing the fun out of childhood.

"What the heck's wrong with people that try and ban kids from having a good time?" Charlie Fenstermacher, a customer at Dottie's Cafe in Dubuque, told NBC News. "I think the poeple that think they should ban stuff like that were never a little kid to begin with."