Like many Polish skiing enthusiasts, in November I usually spend a week at one of the Austrian glaciers. Italian Dolomites are very busy from December until March, leaving France and Switzerland a little less occupied by the Poles.
I was catching up on my reading on the way to Sölden - crooked lawyer style, that is with no other than the October issue of American Association for Justice’s magazine ’Trial’. An article about a settlement concluded in respect of liability for an accident on the slope caught my eye. It ended with this sentence: ’The parties settled for $3.25 million, paid by the negligent teenager’s parents’ insurer’.
Of course, this is Europe and we are not used to the level of punitive damages awarded in the US. Nevertheless, this amount is still impressive. How does that relate to one of the Poles’ favorite sports, as well as to civil liability in their private life?
Statistics show that nearly 200 thousand Poles ski on Austrian slopes every year. In Italy, the Trentino region alone is visited by almost 80 thousand Polish skiing enthusiasts every season. This amounts to over 20% of all foreign visitors. We are the largest nation among all foreigners who visit Trentino during winter.
But, are all skiers aware of the responsibility for accidents on the slopes and their consequences – especially in terms of civil liability?
Not in my opinion.
Firstly, FIS Ski Slope Rules may be common knowledge, but the adrenaline rush often prevails over good sense and one’s awareness of rules.
Poles’ top ’peccadillos’ include:
– skiing off-piste (without additional insurance),
– skiing after a few beers / Feige Vodka / Prugna liguore or Bombardino,
– failure to comply with the signs, i.e. ignoring the ’route closed’ sign.
Secondly, I listed these specific violations on purpose: according to most insurance policies available on the Polish market, they exclude the insurer’s liability for causing an accident in such conditions. It is very rarely though that anyone pays attention to the general terms of insurance.
Thirdly, few people – if they even purchase a specialist ski insurance in the first place - know the exact amount of the indemnity sum under the policy. It usually ranges from approx. 10 to 50 thousand EUR, with the most expensive policies providing liability coverage up to approx. 300 thousand EUR. Considering the possible scope of responsibility for causing personal injury, including redress for bodily injury and health disorder, the costs of increased needs and lost profit… even the highest coverage limit may be insufficient.
What then? The injured party’s lawyers – if they are not able to obtain compensation directly from the insurer – will most likely reach for the wrongdoer’s estate.
My law firm acts on behalf of the injured party. We also cooperate with the injured party’s lawyers when the claim is pursued in accordance with the law of the country in which the accident occurred, but there are some actions that need to be undertaken in Poland – such as an analysis of the third-party liability insurance policy, or the wrongdoer’s estate search (if based in Poland). The insurance contract is also worth examining for abusive clauses. Are we certain that the conclusive provision the insurer relies on when denying liability or reducing the compensation is not, in fact, an abusive clause?
As an example, a quote from clause number 1291 on the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection’s list of abusive clauses: “Compensa will not be liable for damages that occurred in circumstances other than those specified in the notification of damage”. According to the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, the insurer cannot reserve the right to exclude their liability if the client exercised their due diligence and good faith – even if his description of the circumstances of the accident was different than actual.
To sum up, there is a Polish proverb that can be roughly translated to: ’it is easy to be wise after the event’. Let’s hope this doesn’t relate to future skiing vacations…
Happy skiing, and just as a reminder:
FIS SKI SLOPE RULES
1. Respect for other skiers
You are responsible for your own safety and that of other skiers and snow boarders. Be aware of people around you and take necessary action to avoid skiing dangerously or causing a hazard to yourself or others.
2. Control of speed and manner of skiing
Control your direction and speed of travel, taking account of the terrain, snow, weather and traffic conditions.
3. Choice of path
Select an appropriate path. If you are skiing behind someone it’s your responsibility to ski around them without causing any danger to them.
You can over-take from either left or right but you must leave enough distance between yourself and other skiers to allow them to manoeuvre properly.
5. Joining and starting
Before starting off or pulling out you must look up and down the slope and choose an appropriate moment to execute your manoeuvre, so as not to endanger yourself or other skiers.
Avoid stopping at blind corners or narrow or enclosed places unless you have to i.e. you’re injured. In the case of an injury you must vacate the spot as soon as practicable, to avoid further danger (to yourself or others). You should always stop at the side of the slope.
7. Ascending and descending
You must always use the side of the slope to walk up or down, whether wearing skis or not.
8. Observing the signs
Pay attention to and follow the signs, markings and notices on the slope.
9. Offering assistance
You are obliged by law to offer help and assistance in the event of any accident.
10. Duty to identify yourself
You are also obliged by law to give your personal details in the event of an accident, whether you caused it, witnessed it or assisted at it.