European ski law may be progressing toward liability assignment similar to that used by U.S. courts, the Judgment of the Italian Supreme Court [N. 28616 of 20.12.2013] excludes strict liability for the Ski Resort Operator if an accident on the slopes has been caused by excessive speed on the part of the skier.

In a noteworthy case, the high court found that careless and imprudent conduct of the skier, running down the track at high speed and slamming against the curb, does not create a duty of the Ski Resort Operator due to strict liability to preserve “things into its custody”. The Ski Resort Operator is not obliged to compensate its customers for any damages suffered from skiing incidents if the real cause of the damage is their reckless behavior.

Ina dramatically different approach from U.S. ski law, under Italian law, there is a long established doctrine of strict liability which is also codified in Article 2051 of the Italian civil code. It is a principle of general tort law that any Italian Ski Resort Operator must compensate the skiers and the visitors for any injuries caused by all objects under their custody (such as a curb or the boundaries), even if the accident has occurred through no fault or gross negligence on the part of the ski area operator.  Such liability is defined by Art. 2051 as “strict liability to preserve things in custody.”

In the United States, strict liability is typically only applicable in defective or dangerous product cases.  U.S. ski area operators are not held strictly liable for ski accidents upon their grounds, and most are provided even greater immunity through so-called ski safety acts passed by individual states.

But the recent judgment of the Italian Supreme Court [N. 28616 of 20 December 2013], held that the high speed of the skier that descends the track recklessly is one of those so-called “incidentals factors” (“caso fortuito”), unpredictable by the owner of the structure, which then excludes any liability. And this all the more so if the curb or the obstacle against which skiers went to slam was regularly placed on the track.  Thus, responsibility enters the analysis.

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