Skiing accident compensation claims against tour operators, resort owners and insurance companies have been a feature of the industry for many years, but will mandatory helmets put a cap on it?
- [UPDATE: In the aftermath of Michael Schumacher's skiing accident, we ask: Skiing Helmets: Do they make you safer on the slopes?]
One of the biggest UK insurers, Essential Travel (a subsidiary of the Thomas Cook group whose underwriters are based in Ireland) are now no longer offering cover to skiers who do not wear helmets.
This move which is likely to be copied by others will have significant implications for both travel insurance companies and their policy holders and will have a bearing on injury claims for accidents abroad in ski resorts.
Essential Travel have been campaigning for skiers to wear helmets ever since the death of actor Natasha Richardson from catastrophic brain injuries after she collided with a partly concealed tree stump whilst on a skiing trip.
The mandatory wearing of helmets is not without controversy, however, as there are detractors who claim;
- that helmets are of little benefit in high speed collisions
- that they reduce spatial awareness leading to more collisions when ‘crossing’ occurs on the piste
- that whiplash injuries caused by being struck by another user from behind may slightly increase in intensity because of the extra weight of the helmet
- and they also claim (with some evidence) that in the particular cases of overconfident novices, the wearing of a helmet can engender the feeling of invincibility leading to reckless behaviour.
Nonetheless, travel insurance companies have unparalleled access to accident data from their own policy holders, so clearly Essential Travel have have evidence that any suggested disadvantages of wearing helmets are outweighed by the benefits.
The most expensive compensation claims payouts tend to be those concerned with catastrophic injuries and head injuries are most likely to be in this category.
Ski travel insurance policies typically provide fixed upper limit payouts for certain injury types irrespective of how they are caused. This does not necessarily prevent the injured party also talking an injury claim action against the ski resort (or the tour operator by proxy) if either can be deemed a liable party if some sort of negligence can be established.
However, responsibilities also extend to the insured party (the skier) to reduce their own risk and mandatory wearing of helmets may now become de rigueur.
The Small Print for Insurance Companies
Nevertheless, as this is a relatively novel departure, insurance companies will be advised to state very clearly on the insurance policy documentation that the non-wearing of a helmet may void any claim i.e. a mere small print insertion which a policy holder might have reasonably overlooked could conceivably leave an insurer in a less certain position depending on the case.
Insurers will also have to stipulate what minimum helmet specification types will have to be met (so bringing your old hurling helmet with you to Innsbruck won’t cut it!). Most resorts now have proper specification helmets available to rent or buy.
By making helmets mandatory (rather than offering discounts for wearers) it underlines the seriousness of their efforts to reduce serious injury ergo expensive claims. As skiing accident risk data becomes better shared and understood, it is not inconceivable that premiums will vary even more according to risk groups and even the safety records of the resort destinations themselves.
Notwithstanding that the EU Gender Directive may curtail policy pricing on gender criteria, adult females are regarded a lower risk cohort in terms of head injuries from skiing accidents.
Some of the higher risk groups are;
Children – aside from their celebrated exuberance and risk-averse nature, they also have larger heads relative to their body sizes than adults leading to a greater propensity to injury
Men - particularly tall thin individuals with a high bodily centre of gravity. (Behaviourial tendencies may play a part too with the male cohort albeit evidence is scant in this particular area).
Novices – as aforementioned these are a high risk group particularly amongst those with a tendency to attempt faster slopes without adequate training. (Conversely elite skiing athletes also have a very high risk profile but these would avail of specialist insurance schemes).
Snowboarders – This is a higher risk activity than standard/Alpine skiing (see graphic below) albeit many insurance policies insure for both under the same policy.
UPDATE: SEE SKI INJURY INFOGRAPHIC POST HERE
In conclusion, whilst the thrill of the wind blowing through one’s hair whilst whizzing down the slopes of St. Moritz may shortly become a romantic relic of a bygone era, the wearing of a ‘brain bucket’ will still preserve your dignity and maybe a lot more.
Image credit: Wikipedia
For more ski injury statistics: Ski-Injury.com