When it comes to winter sports accidents, international law can be complicated. Where a claim should be pursued and who it should be pursued against is often unclear, requiring legal expertise to untangle the various threads of culpability and responsibility.

This complexity is down to a number of factors:

  • There’s no universal law that applies to winter sports accident claims, with foreign countries having different laws to each other.
  • Changes to European law in recent years have meant that compensation claims can sometimes be pursued on British soil directly against insurers in EU member states.

Meanwhile, tour operators are innovating and adding value in many ways – for example, by offering life passes and childcare in more all-inclusive deals. When coupled with the range of ways in which snow sports holidays can be purchased – online, through a tour operator or over the phone – it can be increasingly difficult to pinpoint exactly where liability lies.

Irwin Mitchell’s expert team of international travel lawyers are well-positioned to negotiate these complexities and will help you every step of the way with your skiing injury claim.

Types of Winter Sports Accidents

Although there are many different ways in which skiers can suffer harm, there are five groups of winter sports accidents which encompass most of these injuries.

Collisions Between Skiers and Snowboarders

Observing the correct etiquette on the slopes is vital for the safety of skiers and snowboarders alike, as collisions involving the two are the most common winter sports accident. Unfortunately, not everyone is as vigilant as the law requires, resulting in needlessly hazardous situations for holidaymakers.

According to the International Ski Federation, the “uphill” skier/snowboarder has a duty to avoid a collision with those below him or her. “Uphill” skiers have this responsibility because those “downhill” can’t see what’s approaching from behind.

A critical part of any collision claim is proving who the “uphill” or overtaking skier/snowboarder was. Things are made more complicated by the fact that skiers must make sure that they don’t exceed their own capability when skiing, while making every effort to avoid fellow slope-users.

If you’re involved in an accident, you should collect the details of the people involved and any witnesses, so that we can ascertain exactly what happened.

Injuries Involving Ski Lifts And Other Machinery

Piste-operators must assure the safety of all who use the slopes. If you’ve been hurt because of mistakes made in this regard, you can recover damages for the injury or monetary losses you have suffered.

Unfortunately, those in charge of the ski areas don’t always act upon their duty to protect skiers and snowboarders, and incidents are all too common.

These injuries can result from:

  • poor maintenance resulting in ski-lifts failing;
  • lax instruction by lift attendants leading to inappropriate mounting/dismounting;
  • chair-lifts being located in the wrong place.

As a result of these mistakes, skiers might be yanked along by the lift after not mounting in the right way, or drop from some height having dismounted incorrectly.

Snowmobiles, piste-bashers and other items of piste machinery can be extremely hazardous in the wrong circumstances on the slopes. If, for example, a snowmobile is travelling uphill in the direction of oncoming skiers and snowboarders, a potentially tragic event could unfold.

The ski resort is liable for the mistakes of its employees. If you’ve been hurt in a collision with a snowmobile or a fall from a chair-lift, you can claim compensation for the injury and distress you went through.

Defective or Incorrectly Set Ski Equipment Claims

When the bindings that secure the ski boot to the ski don’t release as they should, serious injuries can occur. This safety mechanism is designed to prevent injury in the event of a fall, but if the skis are faulty or haven’t been fitted properly by staff at the ski shop, there can be disastrous consequences.

Depending on whether your ski hire was booked through a tour operator or not, it’ll be possible to pursue a claim against the ski shop or the operator responsible for the hire package. In either case, it’s incredibly important to preserve the equipment so any evidence of faults or incorrect settings can be checked.

Claims Against Ski Instructors

Less experienced skiers will often find themselves in trouble when put into a skiing class of inappropriate skill level on a difficult slope. As well as ensuring that classes contain skiers of a similar ability, instructors must select a slope that isn’t too tricky for those under their wing.

Ski instructors have a responsibility to provide sufficient guidance on a suitable slope. If you suffer an injury as a result of an oversight on their part, you could recover compensation in a claim against the tour operator the instruction was booked through, or the instructor’s employers.

Avalanches And Piste Management

Winter sports will never be risk-free and unfortunately not every hazard on the slopes can be accounted for when conditions turn deadly. Nevertheless, operators and local municipalities alike must ensure that their slopes are in a suitable state to keep these perils to a minimum.

The possible dangers that piste operators must warn skiers and snowboarders of include:

  • Fragile slope conditions;
  • Avalanches;
  • Serious weather conditions.

In addition to those warnings, operators also have a duty to maintain and mark slopes correctly.

Potentially fatal situations can arise if details of these dangers aren’t given or slopes aren’t properly managed by operators. If you or a loved one has been injured because of this, you could pursue a claim against the local municipality and/or those in charge of the ski area.

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