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Ski resorts are a popular vacation destination for many people, offering people the chance to get out on the slopes and enjoy themselves. However, skiing and snowboarding are risky, and avalanches are not uncommon, sometimes resulting in catastrophic injuries or even the death of skiers caught by the avalanche.
If a loved one has died as a result of an avalanche while skiing or snowboarding, you should contact an avalanche wrongful death lawyer from Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 today for a free consultation. If we are not able to win your case, you will not owe us anything.
WRONGFUL DEATHS CAUSED BY AVALANCHES
An avalanche occurs when a lower layer of snow gives way or shifts, causing an upper layer to slide down the slope. Avalanches are especially dangerous events that may occur with little warning and may bury skiers in their path. A skier who becomes trapped after an avalanche for more than one hour is unlikely to survive.
In the past decade, avalanches have claimed the lives of about 27 people per year on average according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Avalanches can occur naturally, such as when the temperature changes or during a snowfall, but they can also be caused by disturbances in their vicinity, such as vibrations caused by a skier. As ski resorts continue to open more slopes over more difficult terrain, skier-caused avalanches may likely only increase. Meanwhile, the tragic loss of a loved one may cause not only immeasurable emotional pain, but also present dire financial issues for surviving loved ones as a result of medical bills, funeral costs, and the loss of income and support of their deceased parent or spouse.
WHO CAN I SUE?
Seeking compensation for injuries or death caused by an avalanche can be a complex process that must take several variables into consideration.
If the accident occurred outside of the bounds of the ski resort, the ski resort may not be liable. However, if the accident occurs inbounds of a ski resort, the resort may be liable for a death caused by an avalanche in some situations. “Inbounds” in this context means that the area the avalanche affected was within the bounds of the resort, and open to skiers. The laws governing ski resorts and the liability they may face in the event of a ski accident or a fatal avalanche within “inbounds” slopes vary from state to state. Some states, such as Colorado, have laws such as the Ski Safety Act, which limit the liability faced by ski resorts. A recent ruling in Colorado held that under Colorado’s Ski Safety Act, ski resorts could not be held liable for fatalities that occur due to an avalanche, even if the avalanche affects inbounds slopes, as the court considered avalanches to be an inherent risk of skiing taken on by the skier. While some states have similar laws to Colorado, the courts in each state have often interpreted them differently, such as in Utah. In one Utah case, the court held that avalanches are not an inherent risk of skiing, and allowed the case to go forward, where it was ultimately decided that the resort had taken appropriate actions to mitigate the chances of an avalanche. However, even if the state’s ski injury liability laws restrict you from basing a wrongful death claim caused by an avalanche, you may still be able to seek compensation for injuries caused by negligence by the resort or that of other skiers.
If the fatal avalanche was caused by the negligent actions of another skier, that skier may be liable. In some cases, the other skier may have negligently caused an avalanche by skiing in a restricted or unmarked area or by behaving negligently while on the slope. An avalanche wrongful death attorney may be able to help you determine who may be liable for the wrongful death of your loved one in an avalanche.
To prove negligence in wrongful death or other negligence claims, four elements must generally be established: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
A person or entity may have an obligation, or duty of care, to take certain precautions to prevent an accident from occurring. For example, a skier should generally be sure to stay inbounds on marked slopes and refrain from taking any actions that could trigger an avalanche.
Breach of Duty
A breach of duty occurs when a person or entity fails to take precautions they are obligated to take. If a skier decides to go out of the designated boundaries, their activity could trigger an avalanche that may impact skiers who remain inbounds. Similarly, a ski resort may breach its duty to skiers if it fails to designate known areas at high risk of avalanches, or otherwise may be directly responsible for the skier’s death in an avalanche.
In most negligence claims, you will also need to prove that the other party’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the accident. In the case of an avalanche in the previous example, it would need to be proven that if not for the skier’s actions, an avalanche would not have occurred. The element of causation is often especially difficult to prove in wrongful death claims against a ski resort given that many states mirror Colorado’s position of placing an assumption of risk upon the skier that an avalanche could occur while on the slope.
Finally, it must be proven that the accident caused harm to the victim. In wrongful death cases, damages are usually assumed to exist, as the victim was killed as a result of the accident.
HOW TO FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH SUIT
1. Consult an Attorney
If you have recently lost a loved one due to an avalanche accident, you may be entitled to compensation. You should consult an avalanche wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer may be able to review your case and help you determine who may be liable and assist you in seeking compensation.
Once you have hired an attorney, they may then begin the process of thoroughly investigating your claim. This may help your attorney ascertain pertinent facts regarding your case, including who may be liable and how much compensation you may be able to seek. Your attorney may interview witnesses, examine the scene of the accident, and look for evidence that may support your claim.
Once your attorney has gathered enough information regarding your case, your lawyer may then begin to attempt to negotiate an acceptable settlement with the insurer. Your attorney may present your claim to the insurer, who then may accept or deny this initial offer and potentially make a counteroffer of its own. Your attorney may be able to use the evidence discovered during the investigation to demonstrate to the insurer that if the case goes to trial, they may be unlikely to win, or could potentially be liable for a much higher judgment. This may convince the insurer to settle your claim. If a settlement amount can be agreed upon by both parties, the insurer will typically provide your attorney with the settlement amount, and your attorney will then disburse the funds to you.
If a settlement cannot be reached with the other party or their insurer, the case may go to trial. Your attorney may represent you in this trial and may then use the evidence gathered during their investigation to prove your claim for compensation before the jury decides the amount of compensation, if any, that you may be entitled to.
Compensation for wrongful death may include both economic and non-economic damages. The amount of compensation varies from case to case depending upon numerous variables, such as details surrounding the nature of the accident.
Damages awards generally cover medical costs that may have arisen as a result of the accident before the victim’s death and may include compensation for emergency medical transportation, hospital stays, medical treatment, specialist consultation, and therapy.
Compensation for funeral costs may include funeral expenses and burial costs.
Loss of income
If your loved one was unable to work due to their injuries caused by the avalanche for some time before they passed, you may be able to seek compensation for the loss of income during this period.
Loss of potential income
The loss of a loved one can leave a family without an income provider. In a wrongful death claim, loved ones may be able to seek compensation for lost earning potential. This type of compensation is based on a variety of factors, including general health before the accident, type of work, and age.
Pain and suffering
In wrongful death claims, the family of the victim may be able to seek compensation for the physical pain and emotional anguish the victim may have experienced after the accident before ultimately passing away.
Loss of parental figure
Children who have lost a parent will feel the repercussions of such a loss for years to come as they grow up without the advice, encouragement, and guidance of their parent. They may be able to seek compensation for this loss.
Loss of companionship
The loss of a spouse is a devastating ordeal, and it can have a traumatic impact on the surviving spouse. The spouse of the victim may be able to file a claim for compensation for their loss of companionship that was provided by the victim.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The statute of limitations refers to the legal time limit within which any claims must be filed. The statute of limitations varies by state. In Colorado, the statute of limitations to file a ski accident wrongful death claim is two years.
The beginning of the statute of limitations may be postponed for children until they become an adult in some states. In such cases, the timeframe for which they may file a claim may not start until the minor turns 18. In cases where it is not discovered that negligence may have played a role until after the statute of limitations has run, the timeframe within which to file a claim may begin on the date that negligent behavior was discovered to have occurred or should have been discovered.
CONSULT THE AVALANCHE WRONGFUL DEATH ATTORNEYS AT ZINDA LAW GROUP TODAY
At Zinda Law Group, our wrongful death lawyers may be able to help you if your loved one was killed in an avalanche. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys have years of experience helping our clients pursue the maximum compensation they may be entitled to after losing a loved one in an avalanche.