The increasing number of snowmobile accidents in Ontario is alarming and brings rise to safety concerns and questions as to what preventative measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of snowmobiling injuries and fatalities. Certainly, snowmobiling is a very popular recreational activity among both Ontario residents and tourists, but along with its advantages as a fun winter activity and source of transportation in Ontario back country, snowmobiling can be dangerous. In fact, snowmobiling has become the number one cause of severe injury resulting from recreational accidents and winter sports in Canada.
Certainly snowmobiling is an activity that involves some inherent risks, but sometimes accidents result from preventative or reckless actions taken by a rider that are outside the normal risks of the sport. In such cases, a driver may be held liable for injuries that resulted, particularly when innocent victims such as passengers or children are seriously hurt due to a careless action.
Unlike car and truck accidents, snowmobile accidents are most commonly single vehicle collisions that result when a driver loses control on rough terrain or when the snowmobile breaks through the ice on lakes or rivers. In January 2016, CBC News reported on three fatalities that resulted from two separate snowmobile accidents in Ontario’s cottage country.
Georgian Bay Township police were notified about a single-vehicle collision that occurred on Go Home Lake. Due to unstable conditions in the ice and difficulties reaching the isolated scene of the accident, the Canadian Armed Forces were called and a rescue crew was sent to assist in the search and rescue process. The two riders on the snowmobile were both pronounced dead after being airlifted from the scene and sent to a hospital in Parry Sound.
In another incident, police in Haliburton County received a report of a snowmobile submerged in Dark Lake in Highlands East Township. The driver was a 53 year old man whose body was found only after several long hours of searching.
Both of these incidents are tragic but not isolated cases, which suggests that participants of the sport have reason to re-think whether they are taking all possible measures to keep themselves and their passengers safe. Attention to appropriate safety measures can play a significant role in reducing harm and injury for riders. Many vendors and venues recommend safety classes and lessons be taken before anyone participates in snowmobiling. If novice riders are not educated on how to ride a snowmobile and the proper safety measures to be taken in handling their machines and planning a trip, then the risk of accidents and liability increases significantly.
The following tips are recommended to reduce the potential of a snowmobile accident.
- Novice riders should take a lesson from an experienced rider, on how to maintain your vehicle and ride safely. Novice riders should only ride in daylight.
- Complete routine equipment checks.
- Check the weather forecast and familiarize yourself with the route, before embarking on a trip.
- Always have a first-aid kit on hand. For longer trips, take dry clothing and snacks.
- Travel with a buddy.
- Don’t take more than one passenger and only children over six.
- Maintain a safe speed, particularly on unknown trails or where other snowmobilers are present.
- Stay on marked trails.
- Avoid alcohol consumption.
- Wear proper protective gear including a helmet and warm clothing.
- Watch out for bodies of water.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation provides the following additional safety tips for snowmobilers:
- While you are driving:
- Always drive within your ability.
- Be particularly cautious on corners and hills.
- Obey all speed limits and road/trail signs.
- Always stay on the right-hand side of the trail.
- Use appropriate hand signals before stopping, slowing down or turning.
- Take extra care at road and rail crossings - cross only at designated crossings and at a 90-degree angle so you can cross safely and quickly.
- Only ride on private property if you have permission from the owner.
- Driving at night:
- Reduce your speed so that you can react to potential hazards in time.
- Keep your headlights on
- Wear reflective clothing so that you are more visible to others.
- Driving on ice:
- Avoid unfamiliar frozen lakes and rivers.
- If you must drive over ice, wear a buoyant snowmobile suit.
- Always drive on ice that is hard and clear; never on slushy ice or near moving water.
- Check ice conditions with local authorities before you head out.
When you participate in snowmobiling, you must be aware of the inherent risks and danger involved in the sport because when you choose to engage in this activity, you are generally accepting the integral risks. In particular, when you participate in an activity such as snowmobiling or skiing at a venue or on private recreational land, the defense of Voluntary Assumption of Risk may be put forth by the occupier or venue in order to escape liability for any injuries or fatalities.
In most cases, however, the liability for a snowmobile accident rests on the driver whose reckless or negligent action may have caused the accident. Accidents victims who are seriously injured as well as the families of fatally injured persons, may have grounds to file a suit for damages against the negligent driver and their insurer. If a case cannot be settled through negotiation because a defendant denies liability, the courts must decide whether the accident was within the inherent risks of the sport or was the result of negligent actions that could not have been foreseen by the accident victim.
In the trial, Dolby v. McWhirter, a snowmobiler who sustained serious injuries in an Ontario off-road snowmobiling accident sued another snowmobile driver who accidently collided with him. The crash resulted when the ‘at fault’ driver was attempting to pass and swiped the rear of the accident victim’s snowmobile and caused him to tumble down a steep incline. The judge in this case concluded that this accident was not a normal risk of the sport and thus, found the defendant liable for the victim’s injuries.
It can be difficult to know how to move forward after being hurt in a snowmobile accident, particularly when you are struggling with recovery from serious injuries. If you are wondering about your legal rights in the face of any accident that resulted in injury, contact the Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) for expert advice and representation. If you choose to proceed with a personal injury claim, you may seek compensation for losses resulting from your injuries, including lost wages for the time in which you were unable to work, pain and suffering, medical and rehabilitation expenses, and home maintenance expenses. The specific damages to which you are entitled will depend on the nature and severity of your injuries.