Skiing is a winter activity with millions of participants. Resorts in California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Vermont are well-known, though other states like New Jersey, Massachusetts and Minnesota have ski areas as well. Ski slopes usually have trails tailored towards a skier’s level of expertise, from the bunny or novice trail to the intermediate and expert.
But ski areas can be hazards as well. With so many skiers of different levels competing for space and some trails containing objects like trees, rocks, holes and other hazards, accidents happen every day of the skiing season. Also, ski lifts can malfunction or operators can be lax regarding safety that can result in skiers falling, sometimes from hundreds of feet to an icy and unforgiving surface.
Ski injuries can be serious. Broken arms and legs, damaged knees, traumatic head injuries, internal injuries and paralysis can result. Ski resort operators may be held liable under some circumstances but different standards of care apply to them depending on the laws of the state where the ski area is located.
If you ski or have loved ones who do, there are some things you know about ski injuries. Of course, you should consult with an attorney representing victims of ski injuries for more detailed information about the law and how it applies to your claim.
Causes of Ski Injuries
The following are the most common factors in ski accidents:
- Collisions between skiers
- Ski lift accidents from defective bars, cables or other equipment
- Renting defective skis or other equipment to a skier that leads to injury
- Failure to maintain slopes or to remove or warn of known hazards on a trail
- Inadequate signage
- Defective equipment from ski manufacturer or other equipment
Some of these factors dictate if negligence, breach of warranty, premises liability or product liability causes of action may be the basis of or included in a ski injury claim.
What is the Responsibility of Skiers and Ski Area Operators?
Ski Resort Operators
If you sustain an injury in a skiing accident, the first instinct is to sue the ski resort or operator. Like commercial carriers, ski resorts are regulated by state laws and ski safety guidelines. In Massachusetts, there are various rules governing how you may bring a suit against a ski operator and when:
- You are required within 90-days of the accident to give written notice sent by registered mail to the ski operator with your name and address and the time, place and cause of the alleged injury.
- There is a one-year statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit.
- If negligence is alleged, the ski operator must have breached its duty of due care. However, if the operator’s conduct conformed with state law or the rules of regulations governing ski resorts, then the operator may have met its standard of care.
You may be excused from the written notice requirement if the ski operator had direct or actual knowledge of your injury or had a reasonable opportunity to have learned of it within the 90-day period. If there was no actual knowledge of the incident and injury, the ski operator must show how it was prejudiced by the delay in learning or being advised of it.
Also, a waiver of liability will not excuse an operator’s legal duty to provide a safe resort, to maintain the trails, lifts and rental equipment and to post signs in applicable areas warning skiers of closed trails or other hazards.
Ski Lift Employees
Ski lift employees have certain tasks such as ensuring safe operation of the lift, assisting passengers in loading and unloading, performing daily inspections, keeping lift chairs free of ice and snow, implementing emergency procedures and identifying and reporting potential hazards. If an accident occurs on the lift, then the ski lift employee may be held liable as well as the ski resort, the individual’s employer. Issues such as proper training and supervision of employees are raised in such cases.
Regarding skiers, they may be personally sued for reckless or negligent conduct while skiing, especially if they collide with another skier and cause a serious injury. Guidelines for skiers state what is considered the exercise of reasonable care when encountering other skiers including:
- Remaining in control at all times and being prepared to stop or avoid other skiers and objects
- Knowing that skiers ahead of them have the right of way
- To not obstruct a trail by stopping and not getting out of the way
- To look uphill for other skiers before descending or merging onto a trail
Many skiers take lessons before skiing or snowboarding and are instructed on safety but most ski resorts post these rules, or should, in conspicuous areas for skiers to read.
In a recent tragic accident in Colorado, a teen age skier on a competitive ski team that performed jumps and other tricks on the slopes collided with a middle age skier from New Jersey, causing him fatal injuries. The decedent’s wife alleged negligence on the part of the skier, his mother, coach, ski team and the company sponsoring it. The complaint asserted that the skier was skiing too fast for conditions, was inadequately supervised by his ski coach and that the company that hired the coach failed to adequately hire, supervise or train him.
If an individual skier is sued, most homeowner’s policies will cover the skier for negligent conduct outside the home. It will not cover intentional conduct so that if the skier intentionally harmed someone, the policy will not apply. Typical policies have minimal coverage of $100,000 with many exceeding that amount.
Other responsible parties may be the manufacturer/supplier of skis, snowboards, bindings, boots, helmets, poles or clothing. If defectively made, the manufacturer may be held liable under product liability law.
Damages in Ski or Snowboard Accidents
Damages in a ski accident can be serious because of the great speeds attained by skiers in collisions or before falls, the hard icy surfaces and the height of a ski lift if a skier falls off. Damages may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future wage loss
- Lost earning capacity
- Diminution in quality of life
- Permanent disability and disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
If a death occurred, the administrator for the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the immediate family. Damages may include:
- Medical expenses for final treatment
- Financial support from decedent
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing
- Loss of the decedent’s love, guidance, support and counsel
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent
Attorney Neil Burns has been skiing since 1963. He regularly skis in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Colorado and Utah. Contact ski crash lawyer Neil Burns of Boston if you or a loved one suffered serious or fatal injuries in a ski accident. As someone representing victims of ski accidents and other injury claims over his 30 years of practice, he has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for his clients in even the most complex of cases.
Call his office today for a free consultation: 617-227-7423.