Following the New England Patriots 2019 Super Bowl victory, star quarterback Tom Brady needed a place to take on his next challenge: mastering the art of the ski jump. He enthusiastically chose Montana.
For Montanans, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The state consistently ranks as one of the top skiing destinations in the country. It’s home to 14 ski areas, including Big Sky Resort, the 3rd largest ski area in the United States.
What might come as a surprise, though, is that the New England Patriots were willing to let their future Hall of Fame player hit the slopes in the first place. According to data collected by Johns Hopkins Medicine, approximately 600,000 ski injuries are reported every year in the US. In the 2017–2018 season alone, 37 skiers were killed.
These statistics didn’t dissuade Tom Brady from heading to the mountains, and they certainly haven’t dissuaded many of us.
But what happens when a skier is injured or killed on the Montana slopes? Is it their own fault or is there someone else who can be held liable? This article answers these questions and more.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, 37 people died while skiing or snowboarding in the US during the 2017-2018 season. This number is slightly lower than the 10-year average of 38 fatalities per season. Males represented more than 90% of all skier and snowboarder fatalities in 2017-2018.
|10-Year Rate of Fatal Ski Accidents (Per Million Participants)|
|Season||Fatalities||Skier Days (in millions)||Rate (per million)|
In addition to fatalities, there were 37 catastrophic injuries during the 2017–18 season. This represents a 15% increase from the 2016–2017 season, but is still significantly below the ski industry’s 10-year average of 47 catastrophic injuries per season.
|Common ski-related injuries Ski injuries can be broken up into catastrophic injuries and minor injuries.|
While skiing accidents are relatively rare, a lot of different things can go wrong on the slopes. The 2 most common types of accidents are collisions and chair lift malfunctions/falls. Let’s take a closer look at both.
The vast majority of fatal accidents and catastrophic accidents result from collisions with other skiers, trees, or manmade objects.
Surprisingly, it’s usually the more experienced skiers that end up getting injured in a collision.
As Dave Byrd, the director of risk and regulatory affairs for the NSAA explained: “If you think about it, experienced skiers are the ones who are pushing the boundaries. They are the ones skiing faster, skiing closer to the trees and in the trees because that’s where the powder is.”
The term “chair lift” is generally used to describe the equipment installed to facilitate uphill transportation at a ski area.
In the 2017–2018 season, chair lifts transported 53.3 million skiers a total of 200 million miles. All things considered, chairlift accidents are rare. According to the NSAA there have only been 13 deaths attributed to chair lift malfunctions and falls since 1973 (when NSAA began tracking the statistics).
Nevertheless, chair lift accidents can and do happen.
Just because you’re injured in a skiing accident doesn’t mean you can recover damages from someone. In order to hold someone else liable for your injuries, they must be at fault (in other words, negligent).
How you find fault depends on the nature of the accident.
The fact that another skier runs into you on the slopes doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at fault for your injuries. In Montana, a skier assumes all “risks inherent” in the sport.
In order to find another skier at fault, you must show that the other skier failed to act reasonably and that this failure caused the accident.
When does a skier fail to act reasonably?
Montana Annotated Code 23-2-736 sets forth a number of duties that skiers must adhere to. If the skier fails to adhere to any of these duties and you’re injured as a result, the skier is most likely at fault.
The duties include:
Let’s take a look at 2 hypothetical scenarios:
In hypothetical 1, Bill is unlikely to recover any damages from June. This is because June acted reasonably and Bill must assume all “risks inherent” in the sport.
In hypothetical 2, Susan will likely recover damages from Tom. This is because Tom failed to act reasonably when he decided to take on a challenging trail at a high rate of speed despite being a novice skier.
Similar to a collision with another skier, you can’t sue the operator (or owner) of a ski area just because you were injured on the ski mountain. Instead, you must find that the operator was at fault.
In general, ski operators owe a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to all skiers. The specific duties owed by operators are listed in Montana Code Annotated 23-2-733:
Notably, in some states, chair lift operators are deemed “common carriers” and held to a higher standard of care. In Montana, this isn’t the case. Chair lift operators are held to the usual reasonable degree of care.
Let’s take a look at another hypothetical scenario:
In the above hypothetical, Ray (and the owner of the ski resort through the doctrine of respondeat superior) will likely be held liable for Jim’s injuries. This is because Ray failed to exercise reasonable care and his failure caused Jim’s accident.
In Montana, there are 3 types of damages available to a plaintiff in a ski accident lawsuit under premises liability law:
Punitive damages are not usually awarded in personal injury cases. In Montana, punitive damages are only available in cases involving fraud and/or actual malice.
Dr. Kirk E. Weber, who practices at Big Sky Medical Center and routinely sees injured skiers in the emergency room, has some tips to keep in mind next time you go skiing:
Have you or a loved one been injured in a skiing accident in Montana? Use our free online directory to locate a personal injury attorney in your area.