The Legal Risks of Skiing and Snowboarding

Winter weather in the northeast, especially the snow, drives people to the mountains. Skiing and snowboarding are fun winter activities, but they are dangerous. Know your legal risks on the slopes.

When a snowstorm is brewing over the northeast, generally two things happen:  preparations begin to brave the storm and plans start to percolate about which mountain to go skiing or snowboarding on when the storm subsides. New England ski slopes attract tens of thousands of people each year. Although skiing and snowboarding are thrilling winter sports, there are dangers on every trail. The most common type of accident is a collision—whether into trees, lift poles, snow making machines or others skiers and riders on the mountain.  During our last winter season, there were 54 reported fatalities according to the National Ski Areas Association.  When tragedy strikes on the slopes, who is liable for accidents that may occur?

Although most people are probably unaware, the lift ticket that you purchase generally means you agree and understand that the mountain is not held liable for incidents on their slopes that are caused by negligence. Although nothing is signed, it is implied that you agree to these terms. Once you take that first run down the mountain, you physically agree to the risks. Along with the lift ticket’s fine print, state statutes also have been established to shield ski resorts from liability for skiing or snowboard related accidents —this is true in many states across the country and in New England. Even if an injury is a direct result of a ski resort employee’s negligence, damages cannot be claimed from the mountain because of the waiver you have informally agreed to. According to some state courts, these winter activities (skiing, snowboarding, tubing, etc.) are deemed inherently dangerous sports and the people participating assume all liability.

In the event that a collision occurs with another person on the mountain, legal recourse may be taken against that individual. The waivers that shield a resort from liability do not shield other skiers or snowboarders who cause injury by negligent acts.. It is advised that skiers and snowboarders know and remain within their limits and under control. If someone is going at excessive speeds or riding in a way that may pose a danger to others, those actions can be used as evidence of negligence in court. Surprisingly, if the liable party has a homeowner’s policy, her or she may be covered by that insurance policy for the damages caused.

Whether you are a beginner or an expert on the slopes, keep in mind that accidents can happen and injuries are usually the result. Ski mountains are typically not liable for injuries, but you as an individual can be. Keep under control and avoid any reckless behavior. Slow down when signs warn you to and be on the lookout for other skiers and riders at trail merging.  Winter time sports are great fun, but they have an associated danger and it is the responsibility of those on the mountain to watch out for one another’s wellbeing. If you are injured on the mountain, contact an attorney and discuss the events that took place—although waivers are in place, there may be other options to obtain compensation that you may not know about.    Enjoy the rest of the winter season and stay safe!

Ben Zimmerman Joined Sugarman and Sugarman P.C. in 2000 as an associate and became a partner in 2007. His practice is dedicated to the litigation and trial of personal injury cases with emphasis in the areas of defective products, medical malpractice, construction site accidents, and premise liability. For more information visit www.sugarman.com  

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