Laura Turkington Skiing

Ski season is in full flow. Weekend or week-long trips to the very accessible alpine resorts of France, Austria and beyond is a most popular pastime in the UK and Europe wide. We can’t get enough of fun exercise in blue skies and powder snow followed by relaxing refreshments in view of stunning scenery.  A sobering thought is the increasing prevalence of injuries, sometimes catastrophic, caused by accidents involving skiers and snowboarders on crowded pistes.

It is encouraging to note that in many countries or states around the world, there are laws or regulations in place governing the conduct of skiers or snowboarders when using ski slopes. In Europe we have Rules for Conduct issued by the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS). These rules are not dissimilar in nature to the Highway Code for drivers and examples include:-

  • No overtaking unless there is enough space left to safely pass, even if the overtaken skier/snowboarder makes a voluntary or involuntary movement;
  • Piste users must be in control and ski/snowboard in a manner and speed befitting his/her ability;
  • Parties must exchange names and addresses following an accident.

A person injured in a ski accident with another person who was at fault can make a compensation claim against the other person at fault and interpretation of the above rules would be a starting point in helping to establish liability. People injured in a foreign country in extreme conditions may simply wish to get off the mountain as quickly as possible so there can be evidential obstacles later on when considering a legal case. It is therefore important where possible following an accident to get full details of the responsible party including any relevant insurance cover and any witness information. Photographs of the accident location taken at the time will be useful. The accident should also be reported to the piste authorities and a reference recorded.

Skiing instructors and guides may also have a legal liability for accidents involving people under their tuition. A relatively recent case in England determined that a ski instructor was mainly responsible for one of his group who skied into a tree in off-piste terrain and suffered permanent and severe injuries. Whilst the injured party was an adult, the Court held that that it was reasonably foreseeable to the instructor that the terrain was beyond his capabilities and an accident could occur. The fact this action was pursued in England illustrates that claims can be brought against tour operators in the UK if the holiday packages include guides/instructors, however, the issue of liability will be determined by the law in the relevant country where the accident occurred. In addition, it is arguable that a ski resort itself or its piste operators should bear responsibility for accidents in certain circumstances. Whilst skiing is an inherently dangerous sport, the slopes should be presented in a safe, usable condition with any slopes failing to meet this standard closed to the public.

The dangers of skiing life are sadly not limited to one-on-one collisions. Faulty old rented equipment are a danger to skiers/snowboarders travelling at high momentum and it is advisable to rent from reputable shops in which the technology is reasonably up to date and equipment is not more than a few seasons old.

If you have been injured during a holiday (skiing or otherwise) or are unsatisfied with any aspect of your holiday package, please contact our litigation team for a free consultation to see if we can assist.

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