Is Your Ski Collision Worth a Lawsuit?
In the past few months, our trial lawyers at Leventhal & Puga, P.C., have made headlines for representing victims injured at ski resorts. In one case, a woman passed away after being ejected from the Quick Draw Express lift at Granby Ranch in Colorado; in the other, a man was confined to a wheelchair due to negligent medical care after a snowboarding crash at Keystone Resort in Colorado.
Injuries caused by skiing and snowboarding are not uncommon. Unfortunately, the cause of such collisions is often related to HUMAN ERROR. Whether you were personally injured after a collision, or are just an avid skier or snowboarder, you may be wondering what happens when the cause of a collision is another person.
Are skiers and snowboarders supposed to accept that they are at the mercy of everyone else on the mountain before hitting the slopes? Or do skiers and snowboarders have a personal responsibility to take precautions and avoid collisions when possible?
Hint: everyone does. And when they don’t show reasonable care towards others, they can be held legally responsible for their actions.
What Does Colorado Law Say About Ski Collisions?
Colorado is major ski industry state, and with that comes more detailed ski safety regulations and influence in establishing ski law. Primarily, skiers should look to Colorado’s Ski Safety Act for detailed provisions on the responsibilities of passengers—i.e., skiers, snowboarders, and anyone else using a ski area.
There are some instances where a skier’s behavior is clearly reckless, like skiing while intoxicated, and a skier is very likely to be considered liable when extreme behavior like that is demonstrated. Beyond cut-and-dry liability issues like skiing while intoxicated, the Ski Safety Act covers nine pages’ worth of passenger duties, from following posted instructions to adding or removing objects that could cause another skier to fall. In regard to incidents involving two or more passengers, the Act states:
“Each skier has the duty to maintain control of his speed and course at all times when skiing and to maintain a proper lookout so as to be able to avoid other skiers and objects. However, the primary duty shall be on the person skiing downhill to avoid collision with any person or objects below him.”
This puts the majority of the responsibility on the skier or snowboarder who is further up the mountain, but doesn’t completely absolve skiers who are further down.
How Ski Collision Liability Is Evolving
Recently, a decades-old Colorado court case was resurrected when the Colorado Supreme Court overturned lower-court dismissals of a manslaughter charge against skier Nathan Hall. Hall, 18, was racing down the bottom of Vail’s Riva Ridge slope, just below the North Face Catwalk, when he lost control and slammed into Alan Cobb, 33, killing him.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision sent Nathan Hall to trial, leaving him to face a maximum of six years in prison and as much as $500,000 in fines if convicted of manslaughter. This decision demonstrates a legal trend to put more liability on skiers who cause a collision, both in civil and criminal court.
In Colorado, being hit by a reckless skier is not an inherent danger of skiing, and the skier at fault can be held liable. This means that if you have been a victim of a ski collision and suffered serious injuries, it is likely to be worth pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault parties.
In a typical personal injury civil case, the party found liable may pay some damages out of pocket; however, a large portion of the damages will be paid by the at-fault party’s insurance company. After an auto wreck, for example, the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company often foots the bill.
The process is similar with ski collision cases, with a few key differences. Homeowners insurance covers just about any activity that is not done in a car, and is the type of insurance most likely to covers a skier’s liability if he causes a collision. Unlike driving a car, however, one can legally own a home without homeowners insurance.
While many homeowners have homeowners insurance because their lending institution requires it, not all do. And not all renters choose to protect themselves with renters insurance, either. Unfortunately, when a liable skier or snowboarder is not wealthy and/or does not have insurance, getting the damages you deserve after a collision can be more of a challenge.
What to Do After a Ski Collision
While it is easy for an avid skier to get complacent, it is important to remember that skiing can be dangerous, and life-threatening incidents do occur.
If it happens to you, act as you would after a car crash or other similar crash. Take as many photos as possible for documentation purposes, contact ski patrol and get help, and contact the appropriate insurance companies and your attorney. Between the specifics of the incident and ever-evolving ski collision law in your state, only an experienced ski injury lawyer can help you determine your next step with certainty.
Medical Malpractice: Making Minor Ski Injuries Much Worse
Even if you have a treatable injury after a ski collision, there’s still another danger you face: POOR MEDICAL CARE. Skiers and snowboarders are at special risk of head injuries, which, if not treated quickly and properly, can end in lifelong brain damage or death. On tragic example is award-winning actress Natasha Richardson, who suffered an epidural hematoma after falling on a Canadian ski slope, and passed away hours later.
We mentioned at the beginning of this article that one of our clients suffered permanent disability after a snowboarding crash at Keystone Resort. In that case, his broken leg was operated on successfully, but negligent aftercare at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center failed to address compartment syndrome, a dangerous pressure buildup in the tissues that deprives them of blood flow and nourishment, killing cells. This former Olympic coach and elite-level athlete now has foot drop, curled toes, and complex regional pain syndrome. We argued that the hospital should be the one to pay for our client’s lifelong care, and a Colorado jury agreed, awarding a verdict in excess of $6 million.
Whether it’s negligence by another skier or ski resort on the slopes, or negligence by medical professionals, the law is clear: the guilty party should pay.
For a free consultation with our top Colorado injury attorneys at Leventhal & Puga, P.C., please call (3030 759-9945. We handle cases for clients across the United States, and we are licensed and experienced in both federal and state courts. If we take your case, you will pay us no fee until we recover fair compensation for your injuries and losses. Our firm has a national reputation and deep resources, and we are able to front the costs for the investigation, expert testimony, and trial, if necessary. We believe our clients’ welfare comes first, and will go to court to prove it.
National Ski Areas Association – Slope Safety Fact Sheet
The Guardian: Is skiing the world’s most dangerous sport?