Assessing Liability in Ski and Snowboard Accidents in Massachusetts
With the winter months and some cooperation from the weather, many of us in the Northeast head for the ski slopes when the snow starts falling. Regardless of your skill level and whether you are on a bunny slope or weaving through glades, skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous sports. Even if a skier or snowboarder exercises caution and control while on the mountain, there may be others who do not. Inevitably at any mountain, there will be a collision between two people and unfortunately some of these collisions cause serious injury. According to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade association of ski area owners and operators, skiers and riders experience an average of about 45 serious injuries, including paralysis or spinal injuries, each year. In addition, there were 54 reported fatalities during the 2011-2012 season. What legal recourse does a person injured in a skiing or snowboarding accident have?
In most states, there is little chance of having a viable lawsuit against the ski resort itself if any negligence of the ski resort or its employees played a role in the accident, for example, if an employee failed to post a "Slow" sign in a dangerous trail intersection and an accident resulted from that. Both waivers found on lift tickets and state statutes generally limit a ski resort's liability to instances of truly egregious or reckless conduct.
Most lift tickets contain a waiver or release of liability clause. Though not signed by the user like a typical waiver, these are still functional and enforceable in many states. Release language is often found on the back of the ticket and is triggered once a skier or snowboarder purchases the ticket and uses the ski resort's facilities. These waivers generally limit any recovery against the ski resort for injury suffered there, even if the injury is caused by the negligence of the ski area's employees. Though the law differs from state to state, courts often construe these waivers very broadly and limit the legal recourse available to people injured while skiing. For an in-depth discussion of waivers, please see SUGARMAN Principal Ben Zimmermann's blog " Signing Away Liability: Release & Waiver Laws."
In addition to these broad waivers and releases, several states have established laws that provide ski area owners and operators with immunity from lawsuits for injuries suffered while skiing or snowboarding. New Hampshire, for example, has enacted a law that recognizes skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing as dangerous sports. The law states that participants assume the risks and dangers that come with the activities, and the Supreme Court of New Hampshire has held that this law gives resorts some measure of immunity. See Cecere v. Loon Mt. Rec. Corp., 155 N.H. 289 (2007).
If a skiing or snowboarding injury is caused by another skier or rider, however, the waivers of liability and various statutes barring lawsuits will likely not apply, and legal action can be taken against an individual whose negligence causes a skiing accident and resulting injury. Some states have enacted laws that outline the responsibilities of skiers and riders when on the mountain. The New Hampshire statute RSA 225-A:24, for example, states that skiers must conduct themselves within their own limits, maintain control and speed, and refrain from acting in a manner that could cause injury to others. Therefore, the fact that a skier or rider loses control due to excessive speed and injures another skier or snowboarder could be admissible evidence of negligence if it can be shown that the skier or snowboarder violated any applicable rule or code. Any claim against a skier or snowboarder who causes injury to another may be covered by insurance if the negligent skier or snowboarder has a homeowner's policy.
Whatever the facts and particular circumstances may be, when one is injured at a ski area - by skiing, snowboarding, or taking part in some other activity - it is important to have an experienced team of personal injury attorneys available for consultation. A limit of liability written on a lift ticket does not always mean a case is over and there are no other options. The law in this area is complicated. SUGARMAN's ski and snowboarding accident attorneys have experience in handling skiing and snowboarding accident cases, and we are ready to answer your questions.