Who's liable when someone’s injured in a snowsport accident?
Skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling are among the most popular snowsports in the United States. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), more than 10 million people hit the slopes during the 2018-2019 season alone — and that doesn’t include backcountry skiing, which is quickly growing in popularity. As for snowmobiling, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) reported that there were 1.2 million registered snowmobiles in the country in 2019.
When someone is injured participating in one of these snowsports, several factors determine whether the person can recover damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Let’s take a closer look.
Snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding accident statistics
Snowsports are dangerous, but not as dangerous as you might think.
According to the NSAA, 38 people, on average, die while skiing or snowboarding in the U.S. every year. Additionally, 47 people suffer catastrophic injuries.
To put these numbers in perspective, every year in the U.S. approximately:
- 40,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents
- 8,000 people die from unintentional public falls
- 3,500 people die from drownings
- 51 people die from lightning
- 10 people die from football-related injuries
As for snowmobiling, approximately 200 people are killed in snowmobile accidents every year and an additional 14,000 people are injured. Surprisingly, 12% of all snowmobile injuries are suffered by children younger than 17. Most often, these children are passengers and are not wearing helmets.
Common snowsport injuries
Snowsport injuries range from minor bumps and bruises to death. According to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the most common type of injury for skiers is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain. For snowboarders, the most common injury is to the wrist. For snowmobilers, the most common injuries are upper and lower extremity fractures.
Other common snowsport injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Skier’s thumb
- Neurological trauma
Basic snowsport safety tips
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons points out that most snowsport injuries can be prevented by following these tips:
- Never participate in a snowsport alone
- Keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in snowsports
- Wear appropriate protective gear
- Make sure your equipment is working properly before use
- Wear several layers of light, loose, and water-resistant clothing for warmth and protection
- Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating
- Take lessons from a qualified instructor so you can learn important skills, such as how to fall safely
- Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after activities
- Avoid participating in sports when you’re in pain or exhausted
Types of snowsport accidents
Snowsport accidents generally fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Collisions with other participants
- Equipment failures
- Dangerous conditions on the premises
Who’s liable when someone’s injured in a snowsport accident?
Just because you’re injured in a snowsport accident doesn’t mean you can recover damages. To receive compensation, you’ll have to prove that someone else was at fault for your accident. Who’s at fault and how you establish their fault depends on the nature of the accident.
Collisions with others
Collisions on the slopes are relatively common given the high-speed nature of snowsports, as well as its growing popularity. In order to receive damages, you’ll need to show that the person who collided with you was negligent.
When is a skier, snowboarder, or snowmobiler negligent for causing a collision?
Most states have specific statutes that list the duties snowsport participants must adhere to. If they fail to adhere to these duties and you’re injured as a result, the participant is most likely negligent.
- Know the range of their ability and safely ski within the limits of that ability
- Obey all posted or other warnings and instructions at a ski area
- Maintain control of speed and course to prevent injury to the skier and others
Even if there’s no specific statute, a snowsport participant is negligent if they fail to act as a reasonable person would and this failure is the cause of your accident. This is known as the reasonable person standard.
Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario:
Susan starts down the steep slope and quickly loses control. Not sure how to stop or turn, she crashes into a person skiing in front of her.
In this hypothetical, Susan would be liable for any injuries to the other skier under Montana Annotated Code 23-2-736 because she failed to “ski within the limits of her ability.” Even if the accident occurred in some other state without a similar statute, Susan would likely be liable because a “reasonable person” would not attempt an expert-only ski trail if they’d never skied before.
Snowsports require LOTS of equipment. Travel to any ski resort and you’re likely to see:
- Grab rails
Most of the time, equipment works like it’s supposed to work. But every once in awhile, a piece of equipment hits the shelves that is poorly designed, has a defect, or lacks proper warnings or instructions. If the equipment harms you, the manufacturer may be liable.
Dangerous conditions on the premises
Ski and snowmobile park operators owe a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to all visitors.
Ski and snowmobile park operators can be held liable if you can prove that they failed to exercise reasonable care and you were injured as a result.
The boy had just skied down a beginner slope when he was struck by the snow-grooming machine. Despite the fact that bystanders yelled for the driver to stop, the driver continued another 200 feet, dragging the boy with him.
The boy suffered permanent injuries to his leg and his family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. The lawsuit alleged that the driver was negligent because he took so long to stop and because he had a cracked mirror and visibility through the windows was inadequate. The lawsuit also alleged that the ski area operator was negligent for failing to post notices that snow-grooming operations were underway.
Additionally, most states have statutes that require ski and snowmobile park operators to adhere to certain duties. These duties usually include things like:
- Marking all trail grooming vehicles with flashing or rotating lights
- Clearly displaying the degree of difficulty of each trail
- Closing trails when conditions are considered too dangerous to be on them
If you’re able to show that a ski or snowmobile park operator failed to adhere to these duties and you were injured because of that failure, the ski or snowmobile park operator will most likely be liable for your injuries.
Common defenses against ski or snowboard accident lawsuits
Snowsport lawsuits can be challenging for plaintiffs because of some defenses commonly raised by defendants:
- Assumption of the risk. A person assumes the obvious risks associated with snowsports and is generally prohibited from filing a lawsuit when they suffer such an injury. For example, someone who goes skiing assumes the risk that they could fall and break their arm, and therefore they can’t sue the ski park for such an injury.However, liability attaches where the defendant intentionally injures the plaintiff or engages in conduct beyond the scope ordinarily contemplated for the activity. For example, if a ski park operator leaves a piece of unseen machinery in the middle of the slope and you crash into it, you may be able to sue the operator because running into a piece of machinery on the slopes is beyond the obvious risks associated with skiing.
- Waiver of liability. Before participating in certain snowsports, you may be asked to sign a waiver of liability. A waiver is an agreement where certain parties are released from any liability related to injuries suffered. Every state treats waivers differently. In some states, waivers are unenforceable. In other states, waivers are upheld if they meet specific requirements.
- Statute of limitations. Every state has a statute of limitations that specifies how long you have to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file your lawsuit within the timeline, you’ll be prohibited from recovering any damages.
Recoverable damages in a snowsport accident
In a snowsport injury case, you’re entitled to compensation from the person or entity legally responsible for your injuries. The legal term for this compensation is “damages.” What damages you might be eligible for varies from state to state, but you can usually recover:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost wages
- Property damages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
If a loved one dies in a snowsport accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit and recover certain damages associated with their loss, including loss of support, loss of inheritance, and funeral expenses.
Have you or a loved one been injured in a snowsport accident? Use the Enjuris Lawyer Directory to locate a personal injury attorney in your area. Before you meet with the attorney, find out what you can expect from your first meeting and how you can prepare.
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