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Focus on Snowmobile Accident Preparedness

snowmobile injury lawyers

Winter is right around the corner. With it will come another season of riding snow machines on Minnesota’s 22,000 miles of side- and backcountry trails. Riders around the state have already begun tuning up their sleds, buying new gear, and planning weekend trips. One thing many riders probably aren’t thinking about, however, is what might happen if they get injured in a snowmobiling accident. Do they have the right insurance? Who will pay for medical bills and lost income if an injury that isn’t their fault keeps them out of work? How can they help prevent accidents, and what are some good steps to take if an accident does happen?

In this blog post, we cover some topics to keep in the back of your mind before you gas up and head out on the trails this winter.

Snowmobile Accidents by the Numbers

Seven people died in Minnesota snowmobile accidents during the 2017-2018 season, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That was the highest annual number of fatal snowmobile accidents in the state since the 2013-2014 season when a whopping 15 people died in snow machine-related incidents. Hundreds (even thousands) of non-fatal accidents, both reported and unreported, also happen each year on Minnesota trails.

Snowmobile Accident Risk Factors

By far, the single biggest risk factor for snowmobile accidents in Minnesota is the use of alcohol. Of last year’s seven fatal accidents, five involved alcohol. Research published in the medical journal Annals of Emergency Medicine found men ages 31-50 had the highest rates of getting into fatal snowmobile accidents because of alcohol use, with alcohol being a particular risk factor for snowmobile-on-snowmobile collisions and nighttime crashes.

Other significant risk factors for fatal snowmobile accidents include whether riders wear a helmet (those who wear helmets have a much higher likelihood of surviving), speeding, and riding after dark (when more than half of all fatal accidents happen).

Snowmobile Accident Prevention & Preparedness

To stay safe on the trails this winter, DNR recommends offers these tips:

  • Check Weather and Trail Conditions: Never ride without first checking the outlook for the route you’re taking. DNR maintains up to date maps and condition reports online. You can also check with your local snowmachine dealer or outfitter for recommendations about where it’s safe to ride and what to avoid.
  • Never Drink and Ride: As we noted above, alcohol is the single biggest risk factor for snowmobile accidents. Driving under the influence on a snowmobile trail is also illegal and could result in the suspension of your operating privileges.
  • Ride with a Buddy: Many trails are far from help. Riding alone risks getting hurt in an accident and not being able to summon the first aid you need.
  • Dress for Safety and the Elements: In other words, wear a helmet (it’s the law) and appropriate outerwear for the conditions. Carry extra layers, too.
  • Obey the law and respect the trail system: That means maintain appropriate speeds, stay to the right, and don’t venture off-trail where you have no permission to ride.
  • Avoid Riding on Ice: Frozen lakes and rivers might seem like tempting terrain, but they’re unpredictable. If you must ride on a frozen surface, wear a life jacket over your gear.

In addition to making safe choices before and during your ride, there are also steps you can take to be prepared for unexpected circumstances. This article, for instance, suggests ten must-haves to carry with you on a trip, including a first aid kit and simple spare parts. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Minnesota’s snowmobiling regulations and to take a DNR-approved safety course. Finally, although not required, as this Minnesota insurance agency points out, having snowmobile insurance is a good idea to protect your sled if it gets damaged in an accident, to protect your financial well-being if you cause an accident that hurts someone else.

What To Do If You’re Injured in a Snowmobile Accident

As with any accident involving a motorized vehicle, the first priority after an accident is to seek appropriate medical care. (This priority makes it doubly critical never to ride alone since snowmobile accidents occur out in the elements and often far from a medical facility.) If someone has been seriously injured, send a pair of riders (if there are enough in your group) for help, or flag down other riders on the trail to do so. You might also be able to call for help if you have cell phone or satellite phone service on the trail. But, don’t count on that.

After seeking care and making sure everyone is out of harm’s way (off the trail, etc.), it can also help, if possible, to document the circumstances of the accident as best you can. Taking photos of the scene, collecting information from other riders who might have seen it happen, and (under the supervision of an attorney) writing down what you remember, can all serve to help law enforcement, insurance adjusters, and courts to determine how the accident happened and who or what might have been at fault.

Finally, once you’ve reached the safety of a populated area, you may need to file an accident report with DNR and contact your own or someone else’s insurance company. Before you take either of those steps, however, we encourage you to contact an experienced snowmobile accident attorney, especially if you or someone else was seriously injured in the accident. Actions you take regarding official reporting and insurance can affect your rights, including your ability to seek the maximum compensation you are entitled to receive for injuries that were someone else’s fault.

Minnesota Snowmobile Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been injured in a snowmobile accident on Minnesota trails that you think was someone else’s fault, you may be entitled to seek significant compensation. The knowledgeable, compassionate snowmobile accident attorneys at Swor & Gatto may be able to help. Contact us online or by phone at (651) 454-3600 to schedule a free consultation.