Groundbreaking court ruling for the entire cable car industry

  31.01.2022 Local News

The High Court of the canton of Bern has acquitted the Adelboden head of piste and safety of the charge of negligent homicide. The ruling defines the obligation of cable car companies to ensure the safety of the pistes and is groundbreaking for the entire industry.

In its judgement of 6 May 2020, the Regional Court Oberland had sentenced the head of piste and safety of Adelboden cable cars (BAAG) to a conditional fine of CHF 11,700, procedural costs of CHF 11,764 and a compensation and satisfaction payment to the victim’s family of almost CHF 90,000 for negligent homicide.

The accident and first ruling
On 26 February 2015, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, she was the second last in her group, left the moderately difficult red piste 42 above Geils during a ski lesson. She followed fresh ski tracks up a small side path to a crest and fell headfirst into a ditch 1.4 metres off the edge of the piste. In the process, she suffered a severe liver rupture with internal bleeding and died the same evening of multiple organ failure in the Bern Children’s Hospital.

The Regional Court Oberland considered it proven that danger poles warning of the ditch were missing in the nearby slope area in front of or on the crest. In this situation, the cable car company’s duty to ensure safety was to be rated higher than the pupil’s own responsibility according to the court ruling. The court of first instance followed the guidelines of the Swiss Commission for Accident Prevention on Snowsport Slopes (SKUS), according to which an area of about two metres next to the slope must also be secured by the cable car company.

The court ruled that the accused head of piste and safety had acted carelessly in breach of his duty because he did not instruct his team to mark the Chlusibach ditch more effectively or to fill it up with snow. The death of the pupil had therefore been foreseeable in view of the local conditions and could have been avoided with a high degree of probability by taking appropriate measures.

Assessment of the High Court
The defence appealed the verdict to the High Court of the canton of Bern, which ruled in written proceedings on 27 December 2021 and acquitted the head of piste and safety. In its ruling, the High Court states that the piste was sufficiently secured at the point in question. When applying the SKUS guidelines (securing a two-metre wide safety zone adjacent to the piste), the same requirements did not apply as when securing directly on the piste.

The court further wrote in its 42-page decision: It was obvious to the student, who was familiar with the skiing area, that she was skiing next to the official piste. The accident could not have been prevented even by additional securing of the ditch.

The ruling from Bern is not yet legally binding. The lawyer for the private plaintiffs, the family of the deceased schoolgirl, informed the court that he would appeal the acquittal to the Federal Supreme Court. If the acquittal is upheld, the Adelbodner will not have to pay the victim’s family any damages or compensation. He will also be spared from having to pay the costs of the proceedings.

Economic dimension of the case
Either way the case is tragic for all involved. But it also has a business dimension: if the safety obligation were to be extended by an extensive interpretation of the SKUS guidelines and the side of the piste were to be de facto shifted by two metres, then additional barrier and marking measures would be necessary, which would require more money and additional personnel. The ruling of the High Court is therefore of fundamental importance for the entire cable car and snow sports industry in Switzerland.


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