Failure To Use Tether Results In Freak Snowmobile Accident

In March of 2013, a man from Alberta was on a snowmobile adventure with family and friends near McBride, British Columbia.   Unfortunately, the adventure unexpectedly ended with a freak accident.

The rider was an experienced snowmobile operator, and was familiar with the snowmobile in question. Nevertheless, lost control of his snowmobile, and as a result was thrown off of the machine. Surprisingly, his snowmobile continued to travel without him.  The snowmobile continued on its own at full throttle for upwards of 1,500 metres.  The snowmobile did not come to stop until after it had crashed into one of the others in the group, causing serious personal injury.  The injured party sued the rider, and on February 28, 2018 the Supreme Court of British Columbia pronounced judgment on the issue of fault (see Passerin v. Webb, 2018 BCSC 289).

The main issue for the Court to determine was whether or not the snowmobile rider was negligent, and if so whether that negligence caused the personal injuries suffered by his companion.

Ultimately, the Court held that the rider was at fault, and further, that he was liable for the damages suffered by his companion.

The snowmobile in question was equipped with a tether cord, a simple to use safety feature that is designed to stop the engine if a rider falls from a snowmobile.   The tether cord attaches to the rider’s clothing so that if the rider falls off, the cord would pull off with the rider and the snowmobile would come to a stop.

The Albertan snowmobiler was familiar with the use and purpose of a tether switch, and in fact claimed that it was attached to his clothing. Despite being aware of the warnings placed on the snowmobile by the manufacturer, it was not his practice to inspect the tether cord. After the collision occurred, photographs were taken of the snowmobile which showed that the tether cord was still attached to the snowmobile. However, the clip used to attach the cord to the rider’s clothing was missing.

The Court had to determine whether or not the rider made use of the tether cord. The Court did not accept the rider’s assertion that he made use of the tether cord, and ultimately found that it was not used at the relevant time. The failure to attach the tether cord to his clothing was found to be a breach of the standard of care that he owed to other riders, including the injured party.  The Court accepted the evidence that had the tether cord been properly used, the snowmobile’s engine would have shut off after the rider fell.

Ultimately, the Court held the rider liable for the injuries (and damages) suffered by his companion. A separate trial will be required to determine the nature and extent of the injuries suffered, and the dollar amount of the award that will be granted to the injured party.