Skiers’ Rights and Responsibilities in Skier Collisions
There are 10.6 million skiers and snowboarders in the United States. During the 2009-2010 ski season, they made 59.7 million skier/snowboard visits to American ski areas and resorts. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) the ski resort lobbying and trade group, this past season marked the second best for the industry. Snowboarding has grown in popularity to about 40% of all skier visits. Some resorts specialize in snowboarding parks, with half-pipes, rails, and jumps. And so the term "skier," has been widened to include snowboarders and any other "snow rider." Skiing and snowboarding, are popular, healthy, and generally safe outdoor activities which attract people of all abilities, ages and backgrounds. They offer family fun, challenges for thrill-seekers and outdoor recreation. However, with so many skiers on the slopes, and with such a diverse guest population, skier or skier/snowboarder collisions are inevitable. In Colorado, we expect about 1,250 injury accidents from skier - skier/snowboarder collisions. Sometimes these accidents are very serious or fatal. And serious accidents often result in lawsuits. Skiing is not a contact sport. Skiers or snowboarders who believe that a skier collision is excusable because "accidents happen," are generally ignorant of the governing ski law, as well as the skier responsibility code. The NSAA skier responsibility code is typically printed on every ski map and posted at every ski resort in the United States. The code provides ethical guidelines for skiers, including that skiers always stay in control. Skiers ahead of you have the right of way. Whenever starting downhill or entering a trail from the side, skiers need to look uphill and yield. Common sense advice, but many collisions occur because these three elements of responsible skiing are ignored. The code is merely a guideline. It creates no legal duty on the part of a skier who endangers others. But many states recognized the need for "rules of the road" for safe skiing and have adopted varying ski safety statutes. Ski law is state law - so each case is governed by the ski laws of the state in which the collision occurs. Twenty three states have specific ski liability statutes, and the statutes differ substantially. Throughout the United States, laws hold skiers & snowboarders financially responsible to other skiers for negligent or reckless skiing resulting in a skier/skier collision. And most states with a ski liability statute also have a body of interpretative case law, relating to skiing. When skiing downhill, skiers typically assume risks inherent in the sport. However, skiers typically do not assume the risk of another skier's negligence. The question of precisely which risks are "inherent"- especially in the context of modern, highly groomed, controlled, and heavily marketed skiing, - is debatable in many cases. As a general rule, most states employ an assumption of risk or inherent risk doctrine which protects ski areas against claims arising from the inherent dangers of downhill skiing & snowboarding. However, these states allow recovery against ski area operators for injuries caused by those hazards which are not "inherent dangers." These would include open excavations, parked heavy machinery around a blind corner, collisions with moving equipment which is the fault of the operator's employee. So, most ski collisions do not result in claims against the ski area operator. But there may be a claim against the responsible skier. Colorado law is a model for many state statutes in ski country. Colorado presumes that the uphill skier is at fault in an accident, because the overtaking skier has the primary duty to avoid the skier below him or her. Thus, one of the key issues in any skier/skier case is identifying the uphill or overtaking skier. The nature of the injury often gives substantial clues as to how the accident occurred, the speed at which the skiers were skiing, and the relative angles to each other. All skiers are under a general duty to ski cautiously, within their ability and to maintain control. The Colorado Ski Safety Statute provides that skiers are obliged to maintain a lookout. If one fails to ski in control or to maintain a lookout, the skier is negligent and responsible for the injuries and damages caused. Colorado law, and ski safety acts in most other states, require individuals involved in skier/skier collisions to stop at the scene, render aid and to give their name, local address, permanent address and identification. But do not rely on ski patrol or ski area operators to obtain this information because, as a principle of law, they are under no duty to obtain the information. Although this absence of duty is under challenge, the courts are reluctant to impose an enforceable duty upon ski area operators to obtain identification information from reckless skiers. Generally though, ski patrol will compile a report concerning the nature, location, and causes of a skier/skier collision. The reports will become evidence in a ski case. As a practical matter, most defendants in ski collision cases are covered by their homeowners' insurance which provides a source of compensation for those seriously injured in collisions. Here are some safety tips: 1. Don't ski alone, ski with a companion who can go get ski patrol in the event of an injury, or stay with the injured party. 2. Carry a cell phone. Most ski areas' ski patrol dispatch desks can be reached or routed through by a 911 call. 3. Wear a helmet. Studies show ski helmets reduce injury and prevent death. 4. Take a ski lesson. Advanced skiers have an injury rate one-fourth the injury rate of novice skiers. 5. If you snowboard, mind your blind side. 6. If you are in an accident, get the full name, address, and contact information from any witnesses, and if it is a collision, from the other party. Consider taking a cell phone photo of the other person if you think that he/she is about to leave the scene without giving the required information. 7. Read and carry the ski area map, and pay attention to the skier responsibility code. 8. Ski within your ability. 9. Don't wear headphones or listen to music while skiing or snowboarding. So when you head off to the slopes, remember to ski according to the responsibility code. If you are the unfortunate victim of an out-of-control skier, you may have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries, so contact an experienced ski lawyer to discuss your options.