With the skiing and riding season approaching, the prospects for individuals to suffer bodily injury claims as a result of a ski or snowboard accident will increase. Ski resorts and state statutes and regulations often establish liability disclaimers that impose an assumption of risk upon participants in these sports, but those disclaimers do not create an absolute bar against recovering damages for injuries that a person might experience on the ski slopes. Understanding your rights and remedies, and the limitations on those liability disclaimers, are the keys to success in lawsuits to recover damages for skiing and snowboarding-related bodily injuries.
Skiers and snowboarders suffer bodily injuries most frequently as a result of collisions with other skiers or with stationary objects, such as trees, trail signs, and ski lift support structures. Less common, but no less dangerous, are chair lift accidents, bad or inadequate instructions from ski resort personnel, and ski or snowboard equipment failure. The cause of the accident and the nature of your injuries will dictate the course of any lawsuit you may file and your ability to recover compensation for your injuries.
In any case, your lawsuit will be based on negligence theories. How you prove that negligence will vary with the cause of the accident.
Injuries from Collisions
If you collided with another skier or rider who was out of control or acting recklessly, your case will be more favorable if other witnesses can support your argument that the other skier was reckless. If possible, ask any other skiers or ski patrol personnel who might have seen the collision for their observations of what happened. You should also try to get their phone numbers for later reference. If you cannot find a witness, do your best to remember as much of the circumstances as you can regarding the accident, including the time of day, weather conditions, and location at the ski resort.
If you collided with a stationary object, use your phone to take photographs of the object and conditions as close to the accident as is possible. Conditions on ski slopes can change from day to day and even from one hour to another. An object that was obscured as a result of poor grooming by the ski resort might appear plain as day at a later time. Your best chance of recovering damages for your injuries following a collision with a stationery object is to argue that the resort was negligent in their efforts to make those objects visible to skiers.
Chair Lift Accidents
Chair lifts are generally safe conveyances, and accidents involving chair lifts are more frequently associated with a skiers or snowboarder’s own recklessness. If you do suffer bodily injuries from a chair lift accident, your attempts to recover damages for t hose injuries will almost certainly be met with questions about whether or not your carelessness caused that accident. If, for example, you are drinking or using substances that impair your judgement, you are bouncing while riding the chair or not using a safety bar, or you fail to pay attention as you near the top of the slope, your conduct will work against your case.
Alternately, if you have followed all lift guidelines but your injuries resulted from the resort’s failure to maintain its equipment or from poor training of lift operators, you will have a stronger case. Skiers have suffered injuries during recent ski seasons, for example, when a chair lift abruptly stopped and began to roll backward. As with any accident, your own conduct and the specific facts of the malfunction will be critical elements in any arguments for recovery of damages.
Inadequate Instructions from Resort Personnel
Ski instructors are trained to keep their clients on terrain that matches their ability. An instructor who urges a client to ski on terrain that is too challenging, however, may be liable for negligence if that client is injured while skiing on difficult terrain or in harsh conditions. All skiers and snowboarders can assure their own safety by staying within their limits. Skiers and riders should tell their instructors if they are uncomfortable with any particular ski run or if they would prefer not to ski on more challenging runs. Instructors who ignore their clients’ requests are doing so at their own risk and at the risk of the ski resort that employs them.
Even with significant improvements in equipment design and safety, an equipment failure can still cause a bodily injury on the ski slopes. Skiers and snowboarders are responsible for proper maintenance and tuning of their equipment, particularly with skis that have breakaway bindings that are designed to release when a skier falls. If equipment is rented, the rental shop is responsible for setting the binding tension to match the skier’s ability. Equipment manufacturers and vendors may be liable for negligence that causes bodily injury if the equipment was otherwise tuned and maintained properly by the skier.
Hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes each winter without experiencing any bodily injuries. If you do experience an injury on the slopes, you should consider whether you have a right to receive compensation for that injury and act quickly to secure your rights. The attorneys at Swor & Gatto have extensive experience in representing individuals who have suffered bodily injuries and helping them recover the largest damages award that is possible under the applicable law and circumstances. Please contact us to schedule a consultation as soon as is possible after you have suffered an injury.