Snow sports are increasingly popular among British tourists, who travel to countries including France, Italy and the US every year in search of winter adventures. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of British skiers and snowboarders who have sustained injuries after colliding with foreign tourists or indeed an inanimate object. Any such incident raises diverse legal issues alongside various practical concerns; indeed, not only must a legal team understand the complex procedures involved in bringing a claim for compensation in a foreign country, they must also appreciate the sporting etiquette affecting each case.
Some cases can be brought in England/ Wales involving skiing or snowboarding accidents and they often will be subject to the normal principles of negligence insofar as the claimant would need to prove a duty of care existed, that this duty was breached and that the breach caused the harm. The duty of care in this context affects all parties, so the organisation in charge of the slope and anybody using it will have a degree of responsibility for the safety of others. In England and Wales, the courts will usually consider the facts of a case based upon an interpretation of the rules of the slope.
To highlight the complexities of bringing a case involving an accident that occurred on a foreign slope, there are a number of issues to keep in mind. First, the rules of a slope will vary from one to the next in many countries. North America and Europe have codified systems (YRC and FIS respectively). Statute law might also be a consideration, whilst jurisdictional issues are often relevant; for example, if an English skier is injured by a Canadian snowboarder on an Italian slope there may be a choice of jurisdiction – a choice that would likely hinge on legal costs, the amount of damages available and the recoverability of an insurer’s outlay.
The substantive law of the area in which the accident occurred would also need to be applied by an English court in accordance with Part III of the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995. For instance, under article 1384 of the French civil code, the burden of proof moves from the claimant to the defendant where the claimant has established that the accident occurred and contact between the two skiers was made. In this example, the defendant would then be required to prove that the claimant was wholly to blame for the accident in order to escape liability.
Compensation for defective equipment may be made under statutes such as the Sales of Goods Act 1979, whilst tour operators may also be liable under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. Ski slope operators are only likely to be held liable for an accident if they were to blame for a ski lift fault or provided an inaccurate piste report. In any case, it is essential that professional legal representation is sought immediately after a skiing accident as the process of claiming compensation can be fraught with complications.