There is no duty on the part of the ski patrol to play cop on the slopes

Skiers and Boarders who do not voluntarily provide their ID to the ski area cannot be “caught” by the patrol and there is no liability on the resort for not doing so.

O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

Plaintiff: Mary Ryan O’Connell

Defendant: Killington, Ltd.

Plaintiff Claims: (1) failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail, (2) failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and (3) failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff. Defendant denied those allegations and alleged that plaintiff’s injuries were the consequence of her assumption of the inherent risks of skiing.

Defendant Defenses: No Duty

Holding: for the defendant

In this case the plaintiff was stopped on the slope of the defendant ski area. While standing she was struck by another skier. The ski patrol arrived on scene along with the plaintiff’s sister. The plaintiff asked the ski patrol to get the name of the skier that hit her. The plaintiff’s sister spoke to the skier that collided with the plaintiff and asked him to go to the patrol station and identify himself.

The skier never did.

The plaintiff sued the ski area alleging the ski area:

(1)             failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail,

(2)            failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and

(3)            failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff.

The basis for the failure to obtain the identity of the skier claim was based upon the defendant’s employee manual.

In its instructions to the jury on the failure-to-identify count, the court stated that the jury could find that defendant had assumed the duty to identify skiers involved in accidents based on its employee manual. This manual instructed defendant’s employees to investigate thoroughly all accidents and to obtain the identity of everyone involved. The court instructed the jury that, to decide defendant’s negligence on this count, it need determine only whether defendant had an opportunity to identify the other skier involved in the accident.

At the end of the trial the judge submitted the failure to warn and failure to identify claims to the jury.

The jury found for the plaintiff on both claims and awarded damages of $71,108.69.

The defendant appealed based on the following issues.

(1)             whether defendant had a duty to plaintiff to obtain the identity of the other skier who collided with her;

(2)            whether plaintiff’s failure-to-identify claim is precluded by the jury’s finding that the accident and injury were a result of one or more inherent risks in the sport of skiing; and

(3)            whether certain instructions to the jury were proper.

Summary of the case

After the accident and before the appeal the Vermont Legislature passed a statute stating that a ski area was not legally responsible for obtaining the name of any person involved in an accident.

12 V.S.A. § 1038(b), effective June 21, 1994, provides, in part:

(b) Collision at a ski area.

(1) Any person who is involved in a collision with a skier at a ski area which results in bodily injury to any party to the collision has a duty to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision and shall proceed to the ski area first aid facility and provide that information to the ski area first aid personnel.

(2) No ski area, its employees or agents shall be held responsible for ensuring compliance with these duties by any person, nor shall it be liable in any way for a failure to obtain such person’s name or address.

Because the statute was passed after the incident in this case, it did not apply to this case.

The Court looked at whether there was a common law (prior to statute) duty to on the ski area to do more than ask for the information. To do that the court reviewed how a duty is created in Vermont. “The imposition of a duty is “‘an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that the plaintiff is entitled to protection.”

These factors may include the degree of certainty that plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between defendant’s conduct and plaintiff’s injury, the moral blame attached to defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the burden to the defendant, the con-sequences to the community of finding a duty, and the availability and cost of insurance.

The court analysis separated the separated physical harm, an injury, from economic harm, failure to find someone who may owe another money.

Thus, a possessor of land open to the general public has a duty to aid and protect a member of the public coming on the land against unreasonable risk of “physical harm” only. Physical harm does not include economic loss.

The court concluded: “Our review of the decisions from other jurisdictions indicates that, absent a special relationship or undertaking, there is no duty to protect another’s litigation interest.”

The court then looked at the duties of the ski patrol, which do not include the power to detain or apprehend. “Moreover, even if the ski area had a duty to identify, it would have only a limited ability to enforce that duty against an uncooperative skier.”

The main concern of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care. We are reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier.

The plaintiff argued that the statements in the employee manual that establish procedures on how to deal with ski accident create a duty.

These procedures include completing an accident reporting form, obtaining names and addresses of witnesses to the accident, obtaining witness statements and recording observations at the accident scene. Plaintiff argues that these provisions amount to the voluntary assumption of a duty to investigate accidents, particularly skier collisions.

However the court did not agree with this argument.

…we do not believe that the manual provisions show the assumption of this responsibility. The manual makes clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees are for the protection of defendant with respect to suits against it.

So Now What?

Ski Patrollers are the most over worked and underpaid (or volunteer) people on the slope. The last thing you want is to do is to turn the patrol from care givers to cops.

Make sure that no one interprets anything you have or do as an obligation or duty. No employee should be identified, unless they have a badge, to identify people on the slopes causing harm. Your marketing material should explain the law, but make sure you do not imply you can or will do anything else. Make sure your employee manuals and training do nothing more than explain the law. You can ask for identification. You can remove lift tickets and season passes. You cannot do anything more than take back your property. If you feel the need to do more, than call for lawful assistance.

No one on the slopes has the authority to detain, apprehend or arrest another person, unless they have a badge.

Don’t turn the people on the slope who are loved by all, ski patrollers, into people on the slope skiers and boarders should be wary of.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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