Skiing and snowboarding can be fun and exhilarating, but injuries do happen. Many skiers and snowboarders get hurt simply by accident, but others get hurt because of someone else's actions. This article will address injuries caused by collisions with another skier or snowboarder. For information about claims against a ski area, see Ski Resort Liability for Personal Injury.
The fact that another skier or snowboarder runs into or over you does not mean that he or she is liable to you for damages. In snow sports, as in almost any sports related injury case, there must be some degree of fault before one person can be found liable for damages to another person. Most states have a negligence standard to govern the conduct of skiers and snowboarders. Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. This means that, if a skier or snowboarder does not ski or snowboard in a reasonably safe manner and runs into you, he or she may be found negligent.
How can you prove that another skier or snowboarder was negligent? A good place to start is with the Skier Responsibility Code, which is a short set of simple guidelines created by the ski industry to promote safe skiing. Ski areas post the Code just about everywhere, on the chairlifts, on the lift tickets, and even on the napkins in the ski area's cafeteria. Some of the most relevant guidelines are:
If the skier or snowboarder that hit you violated any of these guidelines, that can be good evidence of negligence.
What is not negligence: Let's say that two beginner skiers collide while skiing very slowly and cautiously down a beginner slope in good weather, with good visibility. In this case, neither skier is negligent. They are both acting with reasonable care. The collision occurred through no fault of either skier.
Not all states use a negligence standard for determining skier fault. Some states use a recklessness standard. A reckless action is more "unreasonable" than a negligent action. A reckless action occurs when a person knows or should know that his or her action is likely to be unreasonably safe, but then they go ahead and do that action anyway. In a state that uses a recklessness standard, you may not recover damages from another skier or snowboarder unless you can prove that the other person acted recklessly, or was grossly negligent -- merely showing negligence isn't enough.
Example of recklessness: An experienced skier heads full speed straight down an icy beginner slope that is filled with beginner skiers, weaves through the beginners, and runs into one of them. This is reckless behavior. An experienced skier should know that beginner skiers have great difficulty skiing on icy slopes, will often blunder into other skiers' ways, and will often fall down. An experienced skier should also know that he or she should give beginner skiers a lot of room on any slope, and especially on an icy slope. Any experienced skier who flies through a bunch of beginners will likely be found to have been reckless.
If you were hurt in a collision with another skier and believe that the other skier was at fault, you should contact a lawyer who can advise you as to whether your state uses a negligence or recklessness standard.
If you get hurt on the ski slopes, you may not be in a condition to gather evidence. But, if you are with friends, you should tell them to take as many pictures of the accident scene as they can, from as many angles as possible. They should take pictures from above the accident scene looking down, from below the scene looking up, and from near the scene. They should try to find and photograph your and the other person's ski tracks if they can. They should take pictures of you and the person who hit you, and any damage to your skis or other equipment. With digital cameras and iPhones, there is never a problem of running out of film, so they should click away. They should also get the names and contact information of any persons who witnessed the collision.
Just like in a car accident case, if another skier or snowboarder acts negligently or recklessly and injures you, you are entitled to damages. Your damages may include the reasonable value of your medical bills, your lost earnings and lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering associated with the accident.
Even if the other person was at fault, that does not mean that you will be able to recover damages from the other person. If the person has no insurance and no assets, he or she will not be able to pay you damages. Motor vehicle insurance does not cover injuries on ski slopes. Homeowners' or renters' insurance will usually provide insurance coverage for these injuries, but not everyone has homeowners' or renters' insurance. If the person who hit you has no insurance, you generally cannot file a claim against your own homeowners' or renters' insurance for this type of injury. Unlike motor vehicle coverage that usually includes uninsured benefits, homeowners' and renters' insurance policies almost never provide coverage for the actions of other people who do not have insurance.