When a small boy fell from a third-floor window in Brooklyn Park last week, it offered fresh evidence of a danger that led to a state law which took effect this month.

The 3-year-old boy, who escaped with scratches, was the 10th child, all age 5 or younger, to be treated for window-fall injuries this year at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale; none has been fatal. The 10 cases are half the total the hospital tracked from 2005 to 2008, and the summer is only half over, said Alison Pence, the hospital's injury program coordinator.

Pence said there were no obvious reasons for the increase this year, but she speculated that it could be due in part to the weather being cool enough this summer for residents to leave windows open and avoid air conditioning expense.

Seven of the 10 cases at North Memorial involved youngsters jumping on beds and going through window screens, Pence said. The most severe injuries were broken wrists and arms or mild concussions, she said.

Eight of the youngsters treated have been boys, including Benjamin Cooper, 3, of Brooklyn Park. He fell at about 7 p.m. Wednesday, minutes after his mother, Benesa Sar, had laid him down to sleep in his aunt's apartment near Zane and 65th avenues. The boy fell through a bedroom window and rode the screen down three floors onto a patch of sandy soil, she said.

"I was scared," Sar said, sitting by her son at North Memorial on Thursday. "I ran downstairs and grabbed him."

He was scared, crying and hyperventilating, she said.

X-rays and CAT scans found no broken bones, and Benjamin escaped with scrapes on his arms and cheek, said Sar, 22. She said the boy is very active. The family lives in a first-floor apartment nearby.

Regions Hospital in St. Paul has treated 25 children for window falls since 2005, but none this year, said a spokeswoman, Pat Lund. Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis didn't respond to a call for recent data, but last year said it had treated 47 children injured in falls from windows since 2000. Two children died.

Statewide, 21 children under age 10 suffered severe injuries from window falls in 2008 and one died, according to preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Health. Since 2000, three Minnesota children have died and 144 have been seriously injured in window falls.

The state Health Department said that, nationally, window falls account for an estimated 12 deaths and 4,000 injuries among children under 10 years of age every year. The statistics cover only injuries requiring hospital treatment.

Controversy over new law

In Minnesota, Laela's Law, named for a Minneapolis girl injured in a fall three years ago, was passed in 2007 and took effect July 1 after rules were adopted by the state Department of Labor and Industry. It calls for safety screens, guards or fall-prevention devices to be placed on new or replacement windows installed above the first story after Jan. 1, 2009, in most multi-unit dwellings, officials said.

But the law doesn't apply to windows with sills that are more than 24 inches from the floor, an exemption that has sharp detractors, nor does it cover single-family homes and duplexes. Of the 10 children treated at North Memorial this year, four fell from single-family homes, and the others from multi-unit buildings, Pence said.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who was one of the chief sponsors of the state law, was surprised to hear Friday that the sill-level exemption was reduced from the 42-inch height that had been in draft rules. She said almost no windows would be covered at the lower height.

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am," Berglin said. She said that at the window industry's urging, legislators didn't set standards in the law, but directed Labor and Industry to do so.

"I think Labor and Industry has lost a lot of credibility over this," she said. "We told them in the beginning if they did not do a serious job of addressing this, we would be working on additional legislation. ... A child jumping on a bed is still in danger of falling out."

Labor and Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum conceded Friday that many windows wouldn't be covered by the law, which supporters say is the first statewide window safety law in the country.

However, he said that the law directed his department to adopt standards consistent with national building standards. He said the 12-member advisory committee that helped draft the standard recommended the 24-inch sill because it is the same minimum height adopted this year for the International Building Code.

Mike Fischer, an advisory committee member representing window makers, said he didn't think the lower sill height would exempt most windows. He said some studies suggest higher windows encourage residents to place furniture by windows, which makes it easier for kids to fall out. He also said the vast majority of child falls are from apartments, not single-family homes.

The law tried to balance "emergency escape and rescue issues with child fall safety," Fischer said.

Jim Graham, another advisory committee member, helped design safer screens that were installed in the Franklin Avenue building where Laela Shaugobay was seriously injured in a window fall in 2006. He said the safety screens cost $50 to $100 compared with $20 and up for traditional screens, but that maintenance costs are less for the safety screens.

Graham said the lower sill level that was adopted "gutted the law."

Nonetheless, he said that Laela's Law "sets in motion the protection of children."

"It is a beginning to protect children. We hope responsible legislation will follow."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658