Ski accidents can result in various injuries, which can differ in severity depending on the type of accident. Injuries most often result from:
- Ski and/or snowboard collisions;
- Ski-lift accidents;
- Ski area negligence, which includes ski operator negligence; and/or
- Ski equipment failure.
Some specific examples of common ski accident injuries include:
- Various broken bones;
- Head, neck, or spine injuries;
- Concussion injuries;
- Lacerations or cuts, especially when involved in a collision with another person or object; and
- Injuries related to exposure to cold weather for long periods of time.
Although the majority of injuries associated with ski accidents involve broken bones or soft tissue trauma, skiing and snowboarding accidents also result in many fatalities each year. A fatality resulting from a ski accident may warrant a wrongful death claim.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, it may be obvious that another skier was reckless, and is responsible for your own injuries. However, liability may not always be so easily determined, as there are many situations in which the actual ski resort or other parties may be held responsible instead.
When Would A Ski Resort Be Liable For Ski Accident Injuries?
Generally speaking, ski accident lawsuits are based on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence allows injured parties to recover damages when they have experienced injury due to another party’s actions or carelessness, based on the circumstances of the situation.
There are four elements which must be proven in order for a ski accident lawsuit based on negligence to be successful:
- Duty: This refers to the responsibility owed from one person to another. In general, people going about their day owe a duty of reasonable care to all other people they come in contact with. This amount of care is what an ordinary and prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances.
- Specifically, the ski resort has a responsibility or duty to act with a reasonable amount of care in terms of keeping patrons and participants safe, as well as informed of the risks associated with their activities;
- Breach: Breach occurs when the party who owes a duty to another fails to meet that specific level of care. Their care falls below the level that is required by their duty. In instances of a ski accident, through either the commission of an act or through omission, the ski resort breached their duty;
- Causation: Simply put, the breach of duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation is fairly complex; essentially, ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred. In a lawsuit, the injured party must prove that the ski resort’s conduct or negligence is in fact what caused their injuries; and
- Damages: Generally speaking, there must be some sort of harm that occurred. The type of harm or injury which fulfill this element can vary, from property damage to emotional stress and loss of wages. In order to assert a successful skiing accident claim against the ski resort, the injured party must be able to prove that the resort caused the injuries for which they are seeking monetary compensation.
Can I Sue A Ski Resort For Injuries?
In terms of whether you can sue a ski resort for your injuries, it is important to note that because ski resorts generally contribute significantly to their local economy, they often receive considerable legislative protection.
An example of this would be how some states maintain “ski immunity laws.” Ski immunity laws shield resorts from lawsuits based on the “inherent risk of skiing.” What this means is that it should be “reasonable or obvious” that you could injure yourself while participating in a high risk activity, such as skiing.
Additionally, there are some specific circumstances in which the ski resort may claim that they are not responsible for your injury. Some examples of such circumstances include, but may not be limited:
- Collisions between skiers;
- A skier’s failure to ski within their ability;
- Skiing outside of a designated area; and/or
- How the ski resort has laid out its trails.
However, there are many situations in which the ski resort could be held responsible and ordered to pay damages. Something to consider is that even signing a liability release form from the ski resort will not bar you from bringing a lawsuit. The only efficient way to determine this is to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific ski liability laws.
Something else to remember is that failing to take standard precautionary steps can greatly affect or minimize your right to seek a damages award. An example of this would be failing to wear a helmet, goggles, and other protective gear. If a skier does not wear a helmet and crashes while on the ski trail, and dies because of a resulting head injury, it is probable that the skier’s family will not be able to file a wrongful death claim. At minimum, they may receive minimum compensation based on the surrounding circumstances other than the skier’s failure to protect themselves.
Your legal claim against the ski resort may be based on the following examples:
- You were injured in a collision with another skier because of negligent traffic control on the part of the resort;
- The ski resort was poorly maintained in terms of safety, cleanliness, etc;
- The ski resort lacked of proper warnings, such as signage denoting the difficulty of different ski paths; and/or
- The ski resort failed to exercise reasonable care, as was previously mentioned when discussing the theory of negligence.
What If The Injuries Resulted From A Defective Product?
There are some cases in which ski accidents and skiing injuries are caused by a defective ski product. Examples of this can include, but may not be limited to defective:
- Protective equipment;
- Various other ski-related gear; and
- Ski lifts, as well as other machinery related to skiing.
In cases involving product defects directly causing a ski accident and the resulting injuries, the manufacturer of the ski product may be held liable under defective product laws. Product defects are generally classified into the three following categories:
- Warning Label Defects: The product does not contain the proper warning information or labels when the product is purchased. This failure could lead to serious injury if a product is used incorrectly, or if it is used without fully understanding the risks associated with use of the product;
- Design Defects: Failures associated with the way the product is engineered or designed. An example of this would be if the design of a ski makes it so that the foot strap is weak. This could lead to an accident, and possibly result in liability for the manufacturer; and
- Manufacturing Defects: These particular defects occur during the assembly of the ski product. An example of this would be if a ski helmet is assembled, and proper shock-absorbing materials that are important to how the product protects the skier’s head are accidentally omitted because of an error. This may result in liability if the defect results in a skier’s injury.
Legal remedies for ski accident lawsuits mirror those in other personal injury lawsuits, and will most likely involve a damages award for the non-liable injured party. The damages may cover losses such as costs associated with:
- Medical bills;
- Pain and suffering;
- Lost wages; and
- Other losses caused by the accident.
Do I Need An Attorney For Ski Accident Lawsuits?
If you have been injured while skiing and believe the injury was the fault of the ski resort, or because of a defective ski product, you will need to consult with an experienced and local wrongful death lawyer.
An attorney will be best suited to understanding your state’s specific laws regarding the matter, and therefore will be able to provide you with the most relevant legal advice and representation. Your personal injury attorney can also help you determine whether it is appropriate to file a lawsuit. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, while working towards a suitable damages award.