New Iowa law restores balance in sledding injury cases

Lawmakers in Iowa recently passed a piece of legislation that clarifies the rights of people who are injured on public property while engaged in recreational activities such as sledding or skateboarding. The new law acknowledges that people who engage in inherently risky recreational activities bear some responsibility for their own injuries, should they occur, while also recognizing the important role that the government plays in maintaining safe conditions at parks, schools and other public properties.

Under previous Iowa law, local governments were given some protection from liability when people sustained injuries while partaking in certain specific recreational activities, but sledding was not included among those listed in the statute. As a result, some cities in Iowa had placed restrictions on sledding in public areas due to liability concerns. The new law replaces the list of specific activities with the broader term "recreational activities," making it more broadly applicable.

A common misconception about Iowa's new recreational activities law is that it shields the government from all liability in situations where people are injured on public land while participating in potentially risky activities such as sledding or skateboarding. In fact, however, the law merely limits rather than eliminates the government's liability in those situations. If the city is negligent in some way that causes or contributes to an injury, it may still be liable for the injuries and related expenses.

What is negligence?

Negligence is a legal concept that often arises in personal injury cases and is roughly synonymous with carelessness. A person or entity whose negligence results in an injury to another person can be held liable for those injuries and any related losses, such as medical bills and lost wages.

Although the basic concept of negligence is fairly consistent nationwide, each state has its own laws that determine when a party can be found liable for negligence. In some states, for example, injured parties can be barred from recovery if their own negligence contributed to their injuries in any way. In Iowa, however, this is not the case.

What if the injured person is partially at fault?

Iowa negligence law allows injured plaintiffs to recover compensation for their injuries even if they are partially at fault for causing their own injuries, although their potential recovery may be reduced in proportion to that fault. This is known as contributory negligence. An Iowa personal injury plaintiff who is found to be more at fault for his or her own injuries than the defendant may not be able to recover any damages at all.

As an example, consider a sledding accident in a city park in Iowa resulting in $100,000 worth of damages. Suppose that the city failed to repair a dangerous condition on the sledding hill and is determined to be 75 percent at fault for the accident for, while the plaintiff neglected to watch where he or she was going and is found to be 25 percent at fault. In this hypothetical situation, the award of damages may be reduced by 25 percent to offset the plaintiff's own proportion of fault, meaning that the he or she could recover $75,000 in damages.

Get help evaluating your claim

If you or your child has suffered an injury on public property in Iowa, a personal injury lawyer with experience handling government negligence claims can help you weigh your options and decide whether to move forward with pursuing a claim. Contact the law firm of Galligan & Reid, P.C., to discuss the specifics of your situation and receive personalized legal advice.