Hunters are risk-takers by nature—in fact, risk-taking is part of the thrill for men and women across the country. Pitting your skill, stillness of mind, and steady hand against the wild would be less meaningful without some of the risks that come from being in the wilderness.
But no hunter expects risks to come from the tools they use. That's why hunters are often advocates for firearms safety—the better a hunter is at handling his/her weapon, the safer everyone is. Hunters are often the safest weapons owners out there.
But there's a risk that few hunters prepare for—a risk that kills more hunters than accidental gunshots: treestand failure.
Treestand Falls: Deeply Harmful & Not Rare
This past fall, 4 hunters were killed in falls from treestands in New York alone. Falling from a treestand is not as rare (or as survivable) as you might believe: over half of hunting accidents in Indiana in 2014 were from falling from treestands. The University of Wisconsin and the University of Alabama found that 55% of treestand falls resulted in spinal injuries. Ned Yost, the Kansas City Royals manager, broke his pelvis and multiple ribs in a treestand fall on a hunting trip. If he didn't have his phone on him, he would have bled to death.
Treestand Failure Is the Problem No One Is Talking About
"If it's such an issue," you might ask, "then why haven't I heard about it?"
Part of the problem is the misconception that treestand falls only happen to negligent or inexperienced hunters. The Treestand Manufacturer's Association only provides safety information under the premise that accidents are only caused by human error...despite the fact that there have been 14 treestand recalls since 2000 due to mechanical error. Investigations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission have discovered that treestands fail from poor design or cheap construction too.
According to an insurance report from a company that insures hunters and outdoorsman businesses, 1 in 4 serious treestand injuries is caused by mechanical error, not user error. While 39 percent of treestand failures are human error, 31 percent are caused by breaking straps, breaking stands, and failed ladders/steps. These small components (rather than whole treestands) are the target of U.S. recalls.
Many Children, One Parent
Why doesn't the Consumer Product Safety Commission just recall dangerous treestand models? It's a good question—but doing so wouldn't work. The majority of treestand products in the U.S. are imported from the same Chinese manufacturer, and U.S. companies simply add branding and extra elements to differentiate their products.
In short, if there's a problem with the base treestand design, then it would affect multiple brands, models, and companies.
But Wait, What About Harnesses?
"Don't hunters wear harness for this exact reason?" is often the response to these issues. Yes, hunters wear harnesses, and treestands must come with them to come with a high safety rating. Failing to wear a harness often saddles hunters with the blame when their treestands fall apart underneath their feet. Harnesses do prevent hunters from falling.
However, there's evidence that the harnesses are as deadly as the falls they prevent.
One hunting death occurred when a young man took his new treestand onto his parents' property on Christmas day. His body was found hanging from the tree hours later. Investigators learned his treestand fell apart and the harness asphyxiated the young man.
These stories aren't necessarily "flukes" either. Multiple hunters have died from asphyxiation or died trying to escape their harnesses. One biomechanical engineer who studies product safety notes that even 10 minutes of suspension in a treestand harness can lead to blood pooling in the legs—leading to shock, brain damage, and death. More harnesses are not the solution.
Only One Thing May Change Treestand Failure
With the costs and complication of issuing industry-wide recalls and with the CPSC taking a hands-off approach to the treestand issue for now, we may not see changes unless the hunting community holds treestand sellers accountable. Some hunters are already calling for companies to withdraw products from stores (rather than forcing hunters to return their purchased products to the seller for a fix).
As treestand companies are only subject to voluntary regulation (i.e. they govern themselves), civil courts are the only forum where treestand companies can be forced to answer for their behavior or inaction in response to endangering customers.
If you were hurt while hunting from a treestand, our injury lawyers want to hear your story. Our team has helped thousands of people get their lives back on track after life-altering injuries. If you were injured in a treestand fall, call (888) 493-1629 for a free review of your case.