It’s that time of year where children are dreaming of the perfect (school cancelling) snow. When it comes, people of all ages rush for their favorite winter activity gear, be it a snowmobile, sled, cross country skis, snow shoes, ice skates, or snowboards. These Michigan winter activities give families a much-needed outdoor activity, to spend time together and to burn some of the pent-up energy building up during so much indoor time. There is, however, a downside to winter activities—they can be downright dangerous. Head injuries, paralysis, and death can occur if proper safety precautions are not taken. Sometimes tragic winter accidents happen even if you do everything properly and safely.
This past week alone, there have been at least two serious snowmobile accidents requiring a visit to the emergency room in Michigan. Both accidents appear to be caused by excessive speed causing difficulty making the proper steering maneuver necessary to round a curve.
Snowmobiling Injures Many Michigan Residents Every Year
Not everyone may be thrilled at the possibility of snow days, but those with snowmobiles look forward to a chance to get out and ride. After waiting all year, it only seems like good luck when the snow comes falling down. Depending on where you are within the state, you may see anywhere from 30 to nearly 100 inches of snow annually, giving ample opportunity for snowmobile enthusiasts to hop on Michigan’s interconnected system of snowmobile trails. This system has over 6,200 miles of riding trails.
Operator error and negligence, including excessive speed or operating the ORV while under the influence of alcohol, as well as unknown irregularities in terrain, are common causes of snowmobiling accidents. Most fatal Michigan snowmobile accidents occur in the nighttime (dark) hours and due to head or neck injuries, drowning, and hypothermia.
Michigan Snowmobile Restrictions Aimed at User Responsibility
Michigan has more snowmobile regulations than many other states where the winter activity is popular. One of the more unusual regulations provides that Michigan snowmobile activities tie directly to the operator’s primary driver’s license. This connection applies in a couple of ways:
- If your license to drive an automobile has been suspended or revoked by Michigan or your home state, you are not allowed to drive a snowmobile under any circumstances.
- Convictions stemming from operation of a snowmobile can accrue points on your driver’s license in the same way a car accident would. Six points are assessed for snowmobile operation resulting in a conviction of manslaughter, negligent homicide, or a felony. Six points are also assessed if a snowmobile operator is convicted of operating a snowmobile under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and four points are assessed against the individual’s driving record if he or she is convicted of operating a snowmobile while “visibly impaired” due to consumption of drugs or alcohol.
Snowmobile Safety Begins with Snowmobile Operators
Though certainly there are many factors in snowmobile operations that a driver cannot control. When an accident is caused by another person’s negligence or by poor pathway conditions, the individual likely has a case for a lawsuit. There are, however, many steps that snowmobile owners can take to reduce the risk of death or serious injury caused by a snowmobile accident.
It’s important to properly maintain the snowmobile to ensure there are no preventable mechanical issues that could cause an accident. Be especially careful at night, and always travel at safe speeds. Just as with your primary vehicle, you should never use drugs or alcohol before or while driving a snowmobile. Wear appropriate safety gear, and understand the limits of your experience and skill with a snowmobile—recognize the power of the machine you are using! Always stay on marked trails and cross streets and roads carefully. When children are present, extra caution should be used.
Sledding also poses serious risks, often to children in the pre-teen stages of life. Twenty thousand children under the age of nineteen go to the emergency room each year due to sledding accidents. Nearly 60% of the emergency room sledding patients are boys. By far, the greatest factors in sledding accidents are speed and unsafe conditions, including objects hidden by snow, trees, and roadways.
All of us who grew up with snowy winters experienced our fair share of bruises and scrapes after an unfortunate incident with a sled. It may be hard for many of us to grasp then, how very serious the accidents that occur during this winter activity can be. Injuries can include paralysis, internal injuries, spinal cord injury, and/or traumatic brain injury. Sledding accident victims and their families undergo significant life changes, with patients sometimes needing extensive surgery, therapy, and life-long support.
Due to the severity of injury possible in a sledding accident, it is not unusual for victims or the families of victims to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the city. Many of these lawsuits in recent years have been very successful, as judgments give great weight to the responsibilities of municipalities toward residents who end up facing lifelong disability and impairment
Sledding Bans May Create Greater Danger
Cold-weather cities around the United States have recently been taking action to ban sledding or to severely limit approved locations for sledding, but others are asking if these kinds of measures are actually helping or hurting the situation. If reasonable sledding locations are banned, do policy-makers really believe they cease to sled? Or is the true reality that they then seek out even more dangerous sledding location alternatives. We at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm encourage you to use caution when sledding. Please choose a safe spot for your winter activities, and utilize the following safety tips:
- Wear a helmet.
- Sled away from roads and obstacles such as trees and signs, and always review your sledding area for spots where dangerous objects might be hiding under the snow.
- Children should not sled without adult supervision.
- Choose your sledding location and your sled appropriately and based upon the sledder’s age, size, and sledding experience.
Have You Been Injured in a Winter Activity Accident?
If you have lost a loved one or are caring for someone who sustained sever injuries in a snowmobile, sledding, or any other winter activity accident, the Lee Steinberg Law Firm can help lift the burden you are bearing. You have more important things to worry about, but we will fight to ensure the wrong done to your family and your loved one does not create unnecessary financial duress. Call our personal injury and wrongful death attorneys today for a complete FREE initial consultation: 1-800-LEE-FREE.