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Skiing and Ski Resort Accidents

Some people think that if you decide to ski, sky dive, rappel/rock climb or engage in other dangerous recreational activities that you assume the risk of every possible thing that could go wrong and injure you. However, when presented with specific facts, people sometimes change their minds. For example, if a sky diver’s parachute was improperly packed by the company providing such services and the sky diver was killed as a result, most people would say that the company should be legally immune for such incompetence. The same goes for rappelling/rock climbing. Most people would say that if a climbing harness broke because it was improperly sewn and not in compliance with standards, the manufacturer should not be immune from legal responsibility.

Skiing is recreational activity that many view as dangerous, even if not as dangerous as skydiving. Like skydiving, skiing can lead to serious injuries and even death if everyone is not careful to observe safety procedures. Skiing accidents often fall under Skiing Responsibility Act (W. Va. Code §20-3A-1, et seq.) or the Pennsylvania Skier’s Responsibility Act (Pa.C.S. §7102(c)), both of which are laws that greatly favor ski resorts over skiers in determining liability for accidents. In all states with ski resorts, there is some variation of the model Skiing Responsibility Act.

An important caveat to the above statutes is that they do not protect negligent skiers who may cause injury to fellow skiers. They only protect the ski resort from certain claims. Therefore, if a skier is harmed by a fellow skier who is skiing out of control, the injured skier may be able to sue the out-of-control skier for simple negligence. In some instances the negligent skier will be covered by his/her homeowner’s insurance policy if he/she has such an insurance policy.

In ski resort accident cases, an experienced lawyer should thoroughly investigate all aspects of the accident, including a review of the incident report and interviewing all witnesses. Within a short period of time, the lawyer should be able to discuss with the client the application of Ski Responsibility statutes and potential negligence claims against other skiers. When necessary, a lawyer should retain the services of a ski resort liability expert. This may include ski trail design experts, engineers and/or people who are former ski resort employees involved in design and maintenance of ski trails and snow tube courses.

Ski Responsibility statutes are highly complex. Ski resort insurance companies and their lawyers know these statutes like the back of their hands. There is a myriad of case law interpreting Skiing Responsibility laws nationwide. Many of the cases are in favor of ski resorts, which can discourage inexperienced lawyers who may in turn wrongly advise people that they have no case. In order to take on a ski resort legally, it is important to have a lawyer who is familiar with the law and who has had success in suing ski resorts. Chris Heavens is such a lawyer. He has recovered millions of dollars for clients in skiing accident cases. In one case, the client was told by another lawyer that he had no case before he came to Chris Heavens. This is a cautionary tale for all people to get a second, third or even fourth opinion before giving up.

A common misperception by the public is that ski resorts are totally immune from liability because of the waiver forms that most ski resorts require skiers to sign a condition to entering the slopes. This is not the case. A legal duty cannot be waived. However, that does not mean that the skier can sue a ski resort in the same manner that a motorist can sue another motorist that is negligent. The above statutes that protect ski resorts greatly restrict negligence claims in ways that most lawyers who have not sued ski resorts simply do not understand.

Another misperception among the public is that snow tubing and skiing are both covered by Ski Responsibility statutes. This may not be the case. While some states are amending their statutes to cover snow tubing and other new forms of ski resort recreational activities, the law has not caught up to all new ski resort activities in all states. Ski Responsibility statutes are statutes of adhesion (restricting the rights of the public) and as such should always be strictly construed in favor of the skier and against the ski resort. Any legal ambiguity should be resolved in favor of the skier and not the ski resort. The identification of such ambiguities is another reason why having an experienced and smart lawyer is important.

Many courts have noted that skiing is “inherently dangerous,” but a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney may argue that the sport can be made exponentially more dangerous by negligent disregard of simple safety procedures. A West Virginia personal injury lawyer may also argue that the concept of liability stems from a ski resort’s duty to keep guests safe. Chris Heavens practices law in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, two states with ski resorts and Skiing Responsibility statutes. However, he has worked with lawyers and experts in other states such as Colorado and Utah in relation to skiing accidents. In short, he has the breadth of experience, knowledge and connections that catastrophically injured people need in skiing accident cases.

Chris Heavens has handled ski resort lawsuits that were initially turned down by other attorneys. In both cases, skiers were injured when the resorts failed to provide simple safety measures that would have insured that the skiers were safe. In one case, the resort did not properly pad a pole and this led to a paralysis injury when a skier hit the pole. In another case, a skier fell over a steep embankment because a restraining fence was not properly installed. In each case, Mr. Heavens was able to recover damages for the victims in spite of the fact that the resorts claimed that the accidents were the victims’ fault and that they had no responsibility under the Skiing Responsibility Act.

Liability on the part of the ski resort is not the only sort of liability that is considered in skiing accidents, since every accident is different and springs from a unique cause. An individual may also be liable for taking chances and acting in a way that shows disregard for the safety of others. A snowboarder or skier who attempts to perform stunts or other dangerous maneuvers and hits someone else may be liable for that person’s injuries.

Another type of liability that can lead to ski accidents is equipment liability. If a manufacturer makes faulty equipment and that equipment causes an accident, the manufacturer might be liable for the victim’s injuries. This is a form of personal injury law known as product liability and covers everything from ski lifts to shoes and poles. When a manufacturer releases a product to the public, the manufacturer warrants that the item is safe when used as intended. If this is not the case, the manufacturer may have to pay damages to the victim.

If a skier has been injured, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the ski resort or the individual involved in the accident will deny liability. In the case of ski accidents, the law often seems to back up the defendant rather than the victim. However, with a careful look at the circumstances, a professional personal injury attorney can often find ways to work within existing laws and recover damages for the victim that will pay for medical expenses and other costs.

If you or a loved one is injured or killed in a skiing accident, talk to an experienced skiing accident or recreational accident lawyer before you talk to anyone. If a ski resort representative, investigator, insurance adjuster and/or attorney contacts you to take a statement from you, tell them that you would like to talk to a lawyer first. Getting free phone advice from an experienced lawyer is the best course of conduct for any person in such situations.