The very first lawsuit against a ski area

Wright et al. v. Mt. Mansfield Lift, Inc., et al. 96 F. Supp. 786; 1951 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2524

Assumption of the Risk or the Doctrine of Volenti Non Fit Injuria as it was known then, won the case for the defendants.

In 1949, the plaintiff was on her second run, on the same run at Mt Mansfield ski resort in Vermont. She allegedly hit a stump hidden by the snow which caused her injuries. She sued the lift company and the land owners for her injuries.

The original defendants were Mt. Mansfield Lift, Inc., Mt. Mansfield Hotel, Inc. and the Stowe-Mansfield Association, Inc. The Stowe-Mansfield Association, Inc. was dismissed from the case because it did not own any land at the ski area. The Stowe-Mansfield Association Inc. owned and operated the lifts. The ski area crossed land owned by several different parties, the Mt. Mansfield Hotel, Inc. and Mt. Mansfield Lift, Inc. The accident occurred on land owned by one or both remaining defendants.

Summary of the case

The court looked at the legal issues of the case. As landowners, the remaining defendant’s duty to the plaintiff, an invitee, was “to advise them of any dangers which reasonable prudence would have seen and corrected.”

However, skiing is a sport and as such one assumes the ordinary risks of the sport, which in this case, include inequalities of the surface. This defense was known then as the doctrine of volenti non fit injuria. Today, we know the defense as assumption of the risk. “The plaintiff then was merely accepting a danger that inheres in the sport of skiing.”

So Now What?

Like the 75 cent lift tickets purchased by the plaintiff, the law and skiing have changed since 1951 when this case was decided.

However, it does point out a few simple issues.

Lawsuits for personal injuries in recreation have been around for sixty years.

Assumption of the risk is a good defense to claims based on the inherent risks of the sport.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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