Skiing obviously entails certain risks and millions of people enjoy the sport safely. However each year there are about 165,000 people seriously injured on the slopes. Many of the injuries involve fractures, torn and ruptured ligaments and knee injuries. A much smaller number involve life threatening injuries or death, according the the National Ski Association 34 people died and 39 suffered paralysis in 2000. Inside Track estimates ski-related knee injuries alone exceed $250 in medical bills each year in the United States.
Many states with ski industries have enacted legislation severely limiting recovery for injured skiers. However many of these statutes vary from state to state and they have been interpreted differently by the courts. Several states with ski injuries have no legislation.
The general view is that skiing is inherently dangerous sport and that people who take part accept the dangers that are obvious and necessary, as one Judge put it "the timorous may stay at home." However, even under this restrictive standard many injured skiers can recover for non-obvious dangers on the slopes.
In Vermont an injured skier was paralyzed after his ski caught on a bush. his lawyers successfully argued to a jury that the bush should have been removed. In upholding the verdict, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that not every fall on a ski slope was an inherent danger of the sport, but rather reasoned that ski operators owe the same duty of care that other businesses owe their visitors.
Injury cases arise when:
There is a downhill collision with an object either natural or man-made. Most states view the collision with anything, an inherent risk, but others make a distinction between natural and man-made obstacles. In Colorado a man-made object may give rise to liability on the part of the ski operator if it was not visible to a skier from 100 feet. Similarly in California a sign that obstructed the slope may allow for recovery.
Other collisions that may allow for recovery may involve other skiers, snowboards, snowmobiles, and grooming equipment. the courts will impose a duty on other skiers to be in control, within their abilities and to avoid injuring other skiers.
Avalanches can give rise to liability, but they are usually viewed as inherent risks or acts of god.
Ski Lift Accidents
Many injuries for which there is recovery involve situations in which the skier is getting on or off the lift. A lift operator may fail to stop the lift once their has been a problem or "misloaded skier," in these cases the skier is carried to a height and then falls. Finally nearly half all ski related fatalities, historically have been related to a failure in the lift cable or carrier. These incidents can involve defective maintenance or design.
The US ski industry is a 12 billion operation in which 54 million people participate, and injuries unfortunately occur. If you are injured through no fault of your own on the slopes you should contact a lawyer familiar with ski law.
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