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Court writes clear decision a jump in a terrain park is an open and obvious risk

If you practice law in this area, you should hold on to this decision because of its statements on the risks of a terrain park.

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

Plaintiff: Patrick N. Anderson

Defendant: Boyne USA, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Michigan Ski Area Safety Act

Holding: for the defendant

This is a pretty simple Michigan case applying the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act (SASA) to an injury in a terrain park.

The plaintiff was paralyzed after go off a jump at a terrain park. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act. The motion was granted the plaintiff appealed. The appellate court upheld the trial court decision.

The plaintiff went off the jump the previous day. On the second day of skiing, when he was injured, he had not inspected the jump. The plaintiff knew that the features of the park would change over time, including overnight.

Summary of the case

What is striking and great about this case is the court’s frankness in describing the terrain park and its risks. The Michigan Ski Area Safety Act, MCL 408.342 provides:

(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.

As long as the risks or hazards of skiing are open and obvious to the sport, then the statute provides immunity to the ski area from suit.

Based on the statute, the Michigan Supreme court in another case (of the same name Anderson) found there were two types of inherent dangers in skiing: natural and unnatural hazards. The court then applied a legal principle, ejusdem generis which states: “general terms include those “of the same kind, class, character, or nature as those specifically enumerated.” Application of this principal provided a greater number of risks, more than those just listed in the statute.

Once hazards fall within the covered category, only if they are unnecessary or not obvious is the ski operator liable.” Id. The Court stated that the Legislature enacted the statute to remove these matters “from the common-law arena” and to grant immunity to ski-area operators. Id. Therefore, the reasonableness of the placement of the shack was not a consideration for the fact-finder.

The court found the jump in the terrain park was a hazard of skiing, even if created by the ski area; it was still a “variation in the terrain that a snowboarder would expect to see if he or she entered a terrain park. The court continued with this great statement.

Even if the jump were not inside the terrain park, it would still be a danger inherent in the sport of skiing; a snowboarder accepts the risks associated with snowboarding, regardless of whether he is snowboarding down a slope or performing tricks in a terrain park.

The court then went further and stated:

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.

There were signs posted at the entrance of the terrain park stating that skiers were responsible for familiarizing themselves with the terrain throughout its use, especially because the features change constantly due to snow conditions, weather, and usage. 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.

The court looked at the plaintiff’s final argument that the jump was not obvious because the plaintiff was not aware of the dangerous it created by being improperly constructed. The plaintiff had an expert witness who opined that the jump could have been constructed in a “safer way.”

The court stated whether there was a safer way to make the jump was irrelevant. The statute removed this issue from litigation.

So Now What?

There are two statements by the court that you need to remember, and hopefully apply in your state. The first is:

Even if the jump were not inside the terrain park, it would still be a danger inherent in the sport of skiing; a snowboarder accepts the risks associated with snowboarding, regardless of whether he is snowboarding down a slope or performing tricks in a terrain park.

The creation of the terrain park or creating features in the terrain park does nothing to change the risks of skiing. The fact the feature is in a terrain park provides greater notice and ability to see and understand the risks to a skier or boarder. However, a jump, in or out of a terrain park, is still a risk to be assumed by someone on the slope.

The second is:

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.

A terrain park is a hill without jumps, ramps, rails, half-pipes and other features. Without those features there is no terrain park. If you enter a terrain park there are going to be jumps, ramps, rails, half-pipes and other features.

Both of these would require that the language of your states Ski Area Statute is written similarly to Michigan’s. However both create great legal language for arguing that when you enter the terrain park you assume the risks of everything in the terrain park, even if you don’t understand or fail to inspect the features in it. But for the signs and ropes, a terrain park is no different from any other part of the ski slope.

This court put in an appeal the things many people have been saying for years.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

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