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Michigan appellate court supports dismissal of a case based on Michigan Ski Area Safety Act

Anderson v Boyne USA, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1725

Decision is definitive about the issues identifying how the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act is to be interpreted.

This decision is recent and can still be appealed by the plaintiff. However, the decision is written well, short, and thorough. In the case, the plaintiff was paralyzed on a jump in the terrain park at Boyne Mountain Ski Area. The trial court dismissed  the plaintiff’s lawsuit based on the Michigan Ski Safety Act, (SASA), MCL 408.341 et seq.

The plaintiff had been skiing at Boyne the prior day and had boarded through the terrain park. The terrain park was marked and had warning signs posted near the entrance into the terrain park. The court stated, “The jump was not a hidden feature of the park, and plaintiff would have seen it had he heeded all posted signs and warnings, as required by the statute.”

Summary of the case

The court in the first paragraph stated the Michigan Ski Safety Act barred the plaintiff’s claims because the jump was “an inherent, obvious, and necessary danger of snowboarding.” The reasoning was based on the SASA MCL 408.342 which states:

(1) While in a ski area, each skier shall do all of the following:

(a) Maintain reasonable control of his or her speed and course at all times.

(b) Stay clear of snow-grooming vehicles and equipment in the ski area.

(c) Heed all posted signs and warnings.

(d) Ski only in ski areas which are marked as open for skiing on the trail board described in section 6a(e).

(2) Each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts the dangers that inhere in that sport insofar as the dangers are obvious and necessary. Those dangers include, but are not limited to, injuries which can result from variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees, and other forms of natural growth or debris; collisions with ski lift towers and their components, with other skiers, or with properly marked or plainly visible snowmaking or snow-grooming equipment.

The court then interpreted a prior Michigan Supreme Court decision Anderson v Pine Knob Ski Resort, Inc, 469 Mich 20; 664 NW2d 756 (2003) which stated: “in the hazards is that they all inhere in the sport of skiing and, as long as they are obvious and necessary to the sport, there is immunity from suit.”

The court looked at the jump in the terrain park as a “variation of terrain” which is listed as an inherent risk of skiing in the SASA. The jump was also something the plaintiff should expect to see if one entered the terrain park. A skier or snowboarder must accept the risks associated with the sport, whether going down the slope or “performing tricks in a terrain park.”

The court also looked at the terrain park not as some special part of the ski area but as part of the ski area. The following quote should be used in every motion over terrain park injuries in the future. It shows a true understanding of what a terrain park is.

While it is true, one can snowboard without jumps, a snowboarder enters a terrain park expecting to use jumps, rails, and boxes. Without those features, there would not be a terrain park. If a snowboarder did not want to use those features, he or she would not enter a terrain park. Instead, the snowboarder would simply propel down a ski hill. Therefore, a jump is a necessary feature of a terrain park.

The court looked at the jump the plaintiff was injured jumping and found it was obvious. The plaintiff also knew of the jump, seeing it the previous day.

The court also took on the plaintiff’s expert witness. The plaintiff, through its expert argued the jump was designed or constructed incorrectly. The court found this to be irrelevant. How it was constructed does not matter because it is a risk that the plaintiff assumed as set forth in the statute. The Michigan legislature removed this argument from the case when it passed the law.

So Now What?

Finally, a decision concerning a terrain park from a court that understands what a terrain park is, part of a ski area. However, as stated above, this decision could still be appealed, which may result in a different decision.

This case shows an evolution of the courts understanding of snowboarding and terrain parks. Decisions in the past either failed to comprehend what a terrain park was or held the resort liable because the terrain park was outside the protection of the statute and obviously dangerous. See Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 25807 where the court found the half pipe to be a high-risk  feature when the plaintiff fell into it (not fell while in it, but fell from the berm into it.)

Here the court saw the park as just another part of the ski area. Like a roller or a bump made by grooming outside of the terrain park, whether or not the injury was caused in or out of the terrain, park does not matter. The jump is part of the resort as such covered by the definitions in the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.

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