Lawn mower accidents involving children occur at an “alarming rate” according to a recent study published by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Despite advances in technology and safety within the power equipment industry, lawn mower accidents are on the rise. In 2010 there were 253,000 reported lawn mower accidents. This number more than triples the approximately 77,000 injuries reported annually in the early 1980s. In 2013, the number rose to more than 300,000 injuries. Approximately 17,000 children younger than 19 suffer severe injuries due to lawn mower accidents. Of those injuries, approximately 600-800 result in limbs being amputated. In fact, for children younger than 10, major limb loss is most commonly caused by lawn mower accidents.
Passengers and bystanders of lawn mowers are four times more likely to be injured than operators. According to results presented by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, injuries were caused most often when children ran behind a mower, slipped under the mower while riding as a passenger, contacted mower blades when the machine was steered in reverse, were struck by a mower that rolled over, or struck by objects thrown from the mower. The most common types of lawn mower injuries to children are cuts and burns. The hands and fingers of the children are the most commonly injured body parts, followed by feet and legs.
There are other trends of note. Children younger than 5 are more likely to either be injured due to touching a hot surface on a lawn mower, or being backed over. Children between the ages of 5-19 are more likely than younger children to by struck by an object thrown by the mower.
These hazards are not new. What is alarming is that despite advances in safety technology, the rate of accidents and injuries is on the rise. Safety features that have become standard on lawn mowers often malfunction, are bypassed, or completely removed. These features such as operator presence sensors, dead-man switches, discharge shields, and No Mow in Reverse, or NMR, features are great in theory, but they must be functioning and used. Often, the most severe injuries occur when young children are inadvertently backed over. The NMR safety feature has likely decreased these injuries. However, these switches are some of the most easily and consequently commonly bypassed safety features on lawn mowers. As a result, these accidents are still all too common.
Some experts criticize the power equipment industry for a lack of new innovation in safety features. Many of the safety features presently on mowers are essentially the same as those emplaced decades ago, yet power equipment has become more powerful, responsive and efficient. One example of this is the common “Zero turn” category of riding mowers. These mowers are extremely nimble, fast and powerful, yet they have the same safety features as their slower, traditional riding mowers. The statistical data available establishes that more safety features are necessary to remedy the alarming trend in increased injuries and deaths caused by lawn mowers. Injury prevention experts recommend the following:
• Teach and supervise teens. Children younger than 12 should not operate a push mower. Children younger than 16 should not operate a riding mower.
• Children should never be passengers on riding mowers, and children younger than 6 years old should never be outside while mowing.
• Before mowing, pick up any rocks, sticks or debris that could be thrown by the mower.
• Ensure all guards, shields, and safety features such as presence sensors and mow and reverse features are operational.
• While mowing, wear shoes, eye and ear protection.
• Only refuel once the engine has cooled.
• Do not try and unclog the discharge or any part of the mower until the mower is shut off and the blade has stopped spinning.
If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.