Vermont Ski Accident Law in a Nutshell
Even though Vermont has the most popular ski areas on the East Coast, unlike most states with ski resorts, Vermont does not have a comprehensive ski safety statute or proactive government oversight. Rather, Vermont ski injury law is made up of a handful of statutes principally designed to protect ski area and chairlift operators from liability and a collection of cases applying common law negligence. Here are the key aspects of Vermont ski law in a nutshell.
Ski collision lawsuits allowed against negligent skiers and snowboarders?
Lawsuits allowed against negligent ski resort operators?
Yes. But the standard is high. Vermont statutory law states that participants in any sport, including skiing and snowboarding, assume, as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport to the extent they are “obvious and necessary.”
Yes—for loss of earnings, lost employee benefits, damage to the ability to earn money in the future, loss of time, household expenses, medical and hospital expenses, home and vehicle modification (such as adding a wheelchair ramp, etc.) and other out-of-pocket expenses, permanent injury and disability, physical pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental and emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, impairment of the quality of life, loss of consortium, loss of affection, loss of lifestyle, loss of society, loss of companionship, loss of the aid and comfort of each other, and/or loss of the enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages available?
Yes. But there is a high bar to clear. To recover punitive damages for an injury or wrongful death, Vermont law generally holds that there must have been a “conscious disregard of the rights of others,” “gross negligence, recklessness, or wantonness” or “an intent to injure” by the wrongdoer.
Statute of limitations?
Yes. A lawsuit must be filed within one year of the date of the incident causing the injury or wrongful death, or the right to compensation will be forever barred.
Duties and Liability of Skiers and Snowboarders Under Vermont Ski Law
Under Vermont ski law, skiers and snowboarders generally must (i) not ski in any area not designated for skiing, (ii) not ski beyond their limits or ability to overcome variations in slope, trail configuration, and surface or subsurface conditions, which may be caused or altered by weather, slope or trail maintenance or skier use, (iii) abide by the directions of the ski area operator, and (iv) remain in constant control of speed and course at all times so as to avoid colliding with plainly visible or clearly marked obstacles and other skiers and snowboarders.
Any skier or snowboarder involved in a collision with another skier or snowboarder, which results in injury or death to anyone involved in the collision, must (i) provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other persons involved in the collision, and (ii) proceed immediately to the ski resort first aid facility to provide such contact information to the ski area first aid personnel. That said, the ski area where the collision occurred is not responsible for ensuring that skiers and snowboarders involved in collisions comply with the requirement to share names and contact information, nor shall the ski resort be liable for failing to do so.
A skier or snowboarder who uses a ski area to access terrain outside the open and designated ski trails in the ski area, and is injured or killed, will be liable in a lawsuit by the ski resort, a rescue organization, a city or town, and/or the State of Vermont to recover expenses incurred to provide rescue, medical, or other services to such person. The ski area, rescue organization, or governmental entity seeking to recover such expenses also may recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs. Nor shall such ski area, rescue organization, or governmental entity be liable for any acts or omissions during such rescue operation unless they were grossly negligent.
Violations of Vermont ski accident law that cause property damage or injure another skier constitute negligence and could result in a civil lawsuit by the injured person against the negligent skier or snowboarder.
Duties and Liability of Ski Area Operators Under Vermont Ski Accident Law
Under Vermont ski law, ski area operators must provide the basics, such as (i) identifying, hiring, and properly training sufficient competent personnel to operate and maintain the ski area and trams to ensure the safety of skiers, snowboarders, and tram riders, (ii) properly maintaining the ski slopes, trails, and chairlifts, (iii) posting in a central location and at other appropriate locations along ski slopes and trails signs showing the location of tramways, slopes, and trails and their status (open or closed), the location of emergency communication devices and medical equipment, the relative degree of difficulty and general surface condition of each ski slope or trail, and warnings when necessary, and (iv) taking other appropriate safety precautions as and where needed.
But under Vermont ski injury law, ski area operators enjoy certain liability protections given to them by the Vermont legislature, including that skiers and snowboarders assume, as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in skiing to the extent they are “obvious and necessary.” This is also known as the “assumption of risk” defense; meaning, an injured skier or snowboarder may not sue a negligent ski are operator for compensation for his or her injuries because the injured skier or snowboarder freely and knowingly assumed the risk of injury inherent in the sport of skiing, which relieved the ski area operator of its obligation to act with reasonable care. That said, the “assumption of risk” defense is not available to ski area operators whose actions constitute gross negligence (i.e., a severe and reckless disregard for the lives or safety of another person).
Under Vermont ski accident law, ski resort operators or their employees also will not be held responsible for the injury or death of a skier or snowboarder who utilizes the facilities of a ski area to access terrain outside open and designated ski trails.
But under Vermont ski law, “liability waiver” agreements that supposedly release operators from all liability resulting from their negligence, which ski area operators may require skiers and snowboarders to sign, are void as a matter of law and have no effect. Ski resort operators, not recreational skiers and snowboarders, have the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards, and guard against their employees’ negligence. Unlike skiers and snowboarders, only the ski resort operators can properly maintain and inspect their premises, train their employees, and insure against risks. If ski area operators were permitted to obtain broad “liability waivers,” an important incentive for ski resorts to manage risk would be removed with the public bearing the resulting injuries and damages.
Violations of Vermont ski law by a ski area operator causing property damage or injury to a skier or snowboarder could result in a civil lawsuit by the injured person or damaged property owner against the operator.
Compensation for Injured Skiers and Snowboarders Under Vermont Ski Law
Vermont ski injury law allows an injured person (and sometimes, the family of a person injured or killed while skiing) to sue for compensation for his or her injuries due to the actions of another skier, snowboarder, or ski area operator. The types of damages recoverable include loss of earnings, lost employee benefits, damage to the ability to earn money in the future, loss of time, household expenses, medical and hospital expenses, home and vehicle modification (such as adding a wheelchair ramp, etc.) and other out-of-pocket expenses, permanent injury and disability, physical pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental and emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, impairment of the quality of life, loss of consortium, loss of affection, loss of lifestyle, loss of society, loss of companionship, loss of the aid and comfort of each other, and/or loss of the enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages are available under Vermont ski injury law where there was a “conscious disregard of the rights of others,” “gross negligence, recklessness, or wantonness” or “an intent to injure” by the wrongdoer.
We are experienced ski injury attorneys. We represent skiers and snowboarders, and the families of skiers and snowboarders, who were seriously injured or killed while skiing, snowboarding, riding a chairlift, or negligently transported down the mountain after suffering an injury at Bolton Valley, Bromley Mountain, Jay Peak, Killington, Magic Mountain, Mount Snow, Okemo Mountain, Pico Mountain, Smuggler’s Notch, Stowe Mountain, Stratton Mountain, Sugarbush, and other Vermont ski areas—regardless of whether it was the fault of another skier or snowboarder, the ski resort operator, or the ski patrol.
If you or your loved one was seriously injured or killed while skiing, snowboarding, or riding a ski lift in Vermont, contact us immediately. Gathering the evidence and interviewing witnesses before they leave the area, or their memories fade, is critical to maximizing your recovery. Time is short. The statute of limitations is running. Call us today.