Liability in Maine Sledding and Skiing Accidents

The Bangor Daily News reported one teen was killed and another seriously injured in a January sledding accident at a Maine ski resort.

Media reports indicate two teens were riding a sled down a ski trail at about 2 a.m. when they hit a tree, badly injuring one rider and killing the other teen. Both teens reportedly attended Portsmouth High School. An Oxford County sheriff’s deputy said the teens were riding a rubber tube on an expert level course. A resort spokesperson said the resort was closed at the time of the accident and does not allow sledding.

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reports sledding fatalities are rare. However, serious and fatal Maine ski accidents are not. The agency reported 33 catastrophic injuries at U.S. ski areas last year. With more than a dozen major ski resorts, Maine remains among the nation’s most active skiing destinations, according to the Ski Maine Association.

These are often very serious, complex cases from both an injury and a legal standpoint. The NSAA reports common catastrophic injuries include paralysis, broken necks, broken backs, and life-altering head injuries. The agency does not count other, less serious injuries.

Nor does it count backcountry skiing injuries or injuries that occur outside a resort. In such cases, property owners could seek protection under Title 14 Part 1 Chapter 7 159-A, a Maine law that provides for limited liability for recreational activities and gives property owners a limited duty of care for permissive use.

And, while kids using ski resorts after hours to sled has occurred for decades, such incidents resulting in serious or fatal injuries also are not tracked.

“Fatalities or catastrophic injuries that occur during normal operating hours (are tracked)—a sledding death after hours at a ski area, which is quite rare, would not be included in this report,” the NSAA states. The NSAA Journal promotes personal responsibility through its #RideAnotherDay program.

From a legal standpoint, these cases are often very complex for a host of reasons, including assumption of risk, liability waivers, and Maine’s ski safety act, found at Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 32, §§ 15217, 15218, which, unless an operator has been negligent, provides that skiers assume all “inherent risks.” These include collisions with trees, manmade objects, or other skiers.

Trespassers may also be afforded a few protections under Maine’s premises liability law.

Still, what constitutes inherent risk, the enforcement and validity of liability waivers, and other legal complexities are issues best discussed with a personal injury or wrongful death attorney experienced in multiple areas of civil law. Even who constitutes a trespasser may be open to a reasonable debate. If an injury occurs after hours involving a person staying at the resort, is he or she considered a trespasser? What if the resort failed to install proper signage regarding operating hours or a prohibition on sledding?

Accidents or injuries elsewhere in the resort, including bars, hotel rooms, elevators, and even ski lifts, may not be afforded the same protections under Maine law. Skier collisions are also complex cases and may allow financial recovery to be sought from an at-fault skier in cases in which their recklessness contributed to the injury of an innocent bystander.

The bottom line is those injured face a high risk of serious injuries and a number of legal hurdles to collecting compensation. Contacting experienced legal help as soon as possible will be a good first step to protecting your rights.

Contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights.

Additional Resources:

Title 14 Part 1 Chapter 7 159-A

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Black Ice Blamed in Numerous Maine Car Accidents Recently, Dec. 14, 2017, Bangor Car Accident Attorney Blog

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