Snow and Ice: On Holiday and at Home - Skiing Accidents Abroad

21 January 2014

At this time of the year, it is worth considering the law in relation to skiing accidents abroad.

Gouldbourn v Balkan Holidays Ltd and another [2010] EWCA Civ 372

In Gouldburn -v- Balkan Holidays Ltd, the Court of Appeal considered whether a ski instructor exercised reasonable care and skill against the prevailing local standards, and not those of the skiers' country of origin.  The facts were that Mrs Gouldbourn and her husband booked a week's skiing holiday with Balkan Holidays in Bulgaria. As part of the package, they booked a six-day learn-to-ski pack at a cost of £89 each: she had never skied before and the learn-to-ski pack was specifically designed for beginners.  On the day of the accident Mrs Gouldbourn travelled up the ski lifts with a ski instructor Mr Damianov. There was no instruction at the top of the run before they went down. Mr Damianov told the group to follow him and he set off.  Mrs Gouldbourn completed two snowplough turns but on the third turn she lost control, was unable to stop and fell injuring her knee.

The trial judge rejected the allegation that the skiing party was taken to a slope that was inappropriate for beginners. The main issue at the trial was whether Mr Damianov had exercised reasonable care and skill in his assessment, instruction and supervision of Mrs Gouldbourn. The court considered the FIS guidelines.

The Federation Internationale de Ski ("FIS") is the international body for enabling competition rules, safety standards and other matters within the sport of skiing.  

The Ski Schools, Instructors and Guides give the following guidance:

"1. The ski school's instructors and guides must teach pupils how to ski safely, which means teaching the technical skiing and the rules of conduct for skiers.

 2. The ski schools are responsible for placing their pupils into different classes according to their standard of skiing.

 3. The ski schools, instructors and guides must never allow their pupils to take any risk beyond their capabilities, especially taking into account the snow or weather conditions.

4. The instructors must remind their pupils that during instruction they have no particular priority on the piste and that they should at all times respect the rules and conduct for skiers."

Although Mrs Mackay put Mrs Gouldbourn in the struggling category, there is no evidence that she demonstrated to Mr Damianov that her lack of experience should have led to his decision not to take her onto that slope on that day. The FIS rules equally make it clear that "skiing like all sports entails risk". The case was dismissed.

If you have had a skiing accident abroad and would like some advice please contact Patrick Eastwood at pat.eastwood@murphy-orawe.com

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