Skiers and Snowboarders Beware: Occupiers’ Liability – What You Need To Know
The weather forecast over the next few days is calling for flurries, and that means that ski hills will soon be fully open and bustling with people. Despite my personal excitement that the snowboard season is finally here, I also feel that it deserves a word of caution.
There’s no real question that skiing and snowboarding can be dangerous, particularly at night and when the conditions are icy. The sport is responsible for many injuries each year. A recent study reported that 1,974 people were admitted to the hospital as a result of a ski/snowboard related injuries in 2017-2018, with 377 of those injuries occurring in Ontario alone.
Can a ski resort or a ski club be held liable for injuries sustained by a skier or snowboarder? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
In Ontario, under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, ski resorts and ski clubs have a duty to take reasonable care to see that all guests on their premises are reasonably safe. Liability could also be found on the part of lift operators who fail to ensure that you load safely or another skier/snowboarder who behaves carelessly or recklessly and causes you to be injured on the slopes.
However, courts have made it clear that a skier has a responsibility to use common sense, stay in control, and maintain a proper lookout at all times. If you are skiing out of bounds or on a hill that is way above your skill level, you could be found to be contributorily negligent, which reduces the amount of damages you may be entitled to.
It is also important to be aware that the Occupiers’ Liability Act allows ski resorts to restrict, modify or exclude their liability through waivers. These are usually found on the back of lift tickets, seasons passes or posted on signs around the resort. While courts have in some cases allowed waivers to be a full defense for the ski resort, they generally must be brought your attention, read, understood and the negligence alleged must be encompassed by the waiver in order for it to be effective.
On that note, the most important piece of advice is to protect yourself by recognizing your abilities and taking the proper safety precautions to prevent injury. While there is no mandatory helmet law in Ontario, do yourself a favour and wear one! If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, make sure you are familiar with the Alpine Responsibility Code, which is a helpful source of safety information. Despite taking these reasonable precautions, if you are injured while skiing or snowboarding, you should contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more about your legal options.