Item: Legal consequences of fatal avalanche accidents in the european alps
Title: Legal consequences of fatal avalanche accidents in the european alps
Proceedings: Proceedings of the 2006 International Snow Science Workshop, Telluride, Colorado
Authors: Jürg Schweizer and Stephan Harvey, WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
Abstract: If a fatal avalanche occurs in an Alpine country such as France, Italy, Austria, Germany or Switzerland the circumstances need to be investigated by law. This procedure is common in continental European countries where civil law applies (in opposite to Anglo-American common law). Any unusual death is officially investigated. An avalanche death might happen on a ski run, a highway, in a village or most commonly in the backcountry, e.g. involving a guided party. Avalanche professionals might therefore face criminal proceedings. Avalanche accident statistics for the Swiss Alps showed that legal consequences were relatively rare in the past ten years. This might result from high safety standards of the avalanche professionals and an overall reasonable application of the law. The legal practice in the various Alpine countries is similar but some differences exist. Whereas the situation is fairly similar in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, in France a new legislation on liability has caused some uncertainty. In Italy there is a law in force that puts any accidental triggering of an avalanche that even only potentially might cause damage or threaten the integrity of people, under severe charges. Overall, no trend of increasing prosecution was detected in recent years. For the avalanche professionals, it seems clear that they have to focus primarily on the safety and well-being of their clients rather than on adopting procedures solely aimed at reducing the legal consequences.
Keywords: avalanche accident, law, litigation, criminal proceedings
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