Snowmobiling is a big part of the winter culture here in Wisconsin and other states across the country. Whether you go up north to the trails in Eagle River or Minocqua or just stay here locally, there are plenty of people who love to get out and ride in the cold and snow. And why not? Snowmobiling is tremendous fun, from the wind in your face to be with friends to the simple adrenaline rush that comes with this time-honored tradition.
Unfortunately, snowmobiling also comes with its own set of dangers. Anywhere from 13 to 22 people die each year based on numbers that go back to 2010. That’s to say nothing of the serious injuries that can result from an accident. When you operate a vehicle that weighs, on average, close to 500 pounds at high speeds, most accidents will at least result in an injury. Those injuries can range from brain trauma to spinal cord damage to broken bones.
All of which makes safety imperative. The following snowmobile safety tips can reduce your odds of being a part of the negative statistics.
- Watch your speed. Yes, it’s energizing to look at an open trail and feel like you “own the road,” in a manner of speaking. But going too fast still increases your chances of an accident, and that accident is more severe than it otherwise might. And, like driving a car, operate your vehicle in a defensive manner and be even more careful after dark.
- Dress appropriately. That starts with an approved helmet and face shields–you don’t need a flying twig to poke you in the eye at high speed. Be careful that your clothes don’t have anything loose dangling–those loose ends can get caught in equipment. Wearing water-repellent warm clothing is also a good idea.
- Don’t travel alone. Early treatment is critical for most medical conditions, and a snowmobile accident is no different. If you have a broken leg on top of your concussion, it could be even more disastrous if someone isn’t there to call for help on your behalf. If you insist on riding alone, at least tell someone else where you are going, so they know where to look if you aren’t home by a certain time.
- Stay on clearly marked trails. These are usually the safest routes to travel. Just be sure to keep your eyes out for fences, trees, or anything else that could result in a collision. And, like driving a car, keep to the right side on this two-way street.
- Of course, we hope it goes without saying but do not drink and drive on your snowmobile. We know that sipping a cold beer with friends in the great outdoors is part of our cultural lifeblood. But we’ve all gotten accustomed to the reality that we can’t drink when we drive a car, and the same prudence needs to apply to snowmobiling. If you do get in a collision with someone and you’ve had some drinks, you stand to be liable for any damages they suffer.
Snowmobile Accident Liability in Wisconsin
Liability for snowmobile accidents is governed under Wisconsin's negligence law. Put simply, negligence exists when someone fails to exercise “ordinary care” in a given situation. If you’re in a snowmobile accident and believe it can be attributed to negligence by another party (either the other driver or whomever maintained the trails), you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit to collect damages.
To prove negligence, you must first prove that ordinary care was violated. As the word “ordinary” implies, this means that the other party failed to do what an ordinary person would have done in the interests of safety. You must further prove that this violation is what caused your injuries, and that those injuries have in turn caused you some sort of loss (medical bills, lost wages, etc.).
A Wisconsin court will follow the principle of comparative fault. This means that a percentage of the blame will be assigned to different parties. Let’s say that while snowmobiling on a public trail, you swerved to avoid fencing that was starting to jut out too far onto the trail, due to a lack of maintenance. The swerve caused your accident. The trail operator will bear responsibility for not having the fencing maintained.
But let’s say you were driving your snowmobile too fast for conditions. The court will consider that as well and assign each of you a share of the blame.
What to Do after a Snowmobile Accident
There are two things you must do after a snowmobile accident. Start with getting medical attention, even if your injuries do not seem to be serious. Certain injuries, especially those to the back and head, can take some time to manifest. The quicker you’re in for treatment, the better your chances of a full recovery.
From a legal perspective, tying your injuries to the accident becomes easier when you get looked at right away. Let’s say you aggravated your back but didn’t get it checked out. Three weeks later, when lifting something in your basement, it gets bad enough that you must go to the ER. The primary cause of the injury might have been the snowmobile accident, but that has been clouded by the fact that the lifting (along with any physical activity you’ve done in the intervening time) might also have contributed.
It’s required under Wisconsin law that you notify the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources within 10 days of the accident. We also strongly suggest that the local police be called in to file a report. An official record of the accident, with firsthand observations from police officers, might prove crucial in a lawsuit.
Just like a car accident, make sure you talk to any potential witnesses. Get their phone numbers. If you have the presence of mind, take cellphone pictures. If another snowmobile driver is involved, get their insurance information. And be very careful about what you say. As Wisconsinites, we have a deserved reputation for being nice and polite. But even a polite “I’m sorry about that” to the other driver could end up interpreted as an admission of guilt. Save the niceness for later.
Then reach out to a snowmobile accident attorney. Do not talk to the insurance company, at least not yet. Like talking too much to the other driver at the scene of the accident, it’s important not to casually say anything that could be used against you. Let us get a look at the case before you begin talking to outside parties.
Finally, keep track of your expenses. Your medical bills include everything from an office copay to any insurance deductibles you may owe. If you missed time at work, be sure that’s documented. If you needed to call an Uber for a ride because your injuries prevent you from driving, note that. Your damages also include any counseling you may have sought or need to seek to deal with the anxiety that may arise after the accident.
Snowmobiling is a lot of fun, but it comes with risks. With risk comes the potential for accidents and with accidents, the need for a good lawyer. At Casey Law Offices, S.C., we’re experienced in a wide range of personal injury accident lawsuits. We understand what’s needed to define negligence and how to prove it in court. We fight hard for our clients because we know how much is at stake for them in a state like Wisconsin where literally every percentage point of fault comes with a dollar value. We encourage you to reach out, either by phone at (414) 272-5564 or here online today.