Snowboarder, off-duty employee of defendant ski area, collides with a skier. New Hampshire Supreme Court finds a way different from what was argued at the trial court to decide the case.Posted: November 30, 2015
Court looks at the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act signage posted at the ticket window and on the back of the lift ticket in reviewing the facts of the case, but does not use that information in its decision. This is both c and interesting in a Supreme Court decision.
State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire
Plaintiff: Diana Camire
Defendant: The Gunstock Area Commission
Plaintiff Claims: three counts based upon vicarious liability for the instructor’s alleged negligent and reckless conduct, and one count alleging that Gunstock was directly liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising the instructor
Defendant Defenses: Release and lack of liability because the employee was off duty at the time of the collision
Holding: for the defendant
This is a simple case. However, how the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided the case is novel.
The plaintiff was skiing at the defendant ski area. While skiing she was hit by a snowboarder causing her injuries. At the time of the collision, the snowboarder was off duty, but employed by the defendant as a snowboard instructor.
The plaintiff argued the defendant was vicariously liable for the actions of the snowboarder because he was an employee of the defendant. Vicarious liability is liability of an employer for the actions of an employee while working or acting for the employer.
At the time of the collision the snowboarder had not reported to work, which was supposed to do in another 15 minutes.
The court pointed out the plaintiff purchased her lift ticket next to a 35” by 40” sign, which recited language of the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act. Additional language and warnings were printed on the backside of the lift ticket the plaintiff purchased.
The plaintiff sued the ski area for the actions of the snowboarder and for negligently hiring, training and supervising the snowboarder. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the release and the fact the snowboarder was not working for the defendant at the time of the accident.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The lower court granted the defendant ski area’s motion for summary judgment based on the release and the lack of duty because the snowboarder was not working at the time of the incident.
The Supreme Court ignored both of those legal issues and instead looked at whether the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act affected this case. Normally, an appeals court will only look at the issues specifically argued in the lower courts and prevent litigation over issues not presented at the trial court. Here the court held that failure to bring an argument at a lower court limits the parties from making the argument at the appellate court but does not prevent the appellate court from look and ruling on the issue.
The court looked at the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act and found the act created immunity for the defendant ski area.
The issue of whether a ski area operator has statutory immunity under RSA 225-A:24, I, presents a question of law that, in this case, is dispositive of the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claims. Accordingly, in the interest of judicial economy, and because both parties addressed the issue during oral argument before this court, we will consider it.
The court quoted specific language in the act that prevented litigation for collisions.
Each person who participates in the sport of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing accepts as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the skier or passenger assumes as a matter of law include but are not limited to the following: … collisions with other skiers or other persons . … [Emphasize added by the court.]
The plaintiff argued the statute did not apply in this case because the statute did not apply to employees of the ski area involved in a collision. The court did not read the statute with the limitation that the statute only applied to non-employees.
Thus, we hold that, based upon the plain language of the statute, the legislature intended to include, as a category of inherent risk, collisions with ski area employees, regardless of whether they were working at the time of the collision.
The court also pointed out that the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act did not apply only to the risks set forth in the statute. Additional risks, not identified by the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act, could be assumed by a skier at a resort.
Thus, we disagree with the plaintiff to the extent that she argues that “collisions with other skiers or other persons,” RSA 225-A:24, I, excludes collisions with ski area employees because the legislature did not specifically identify them as an inherent risk of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.
The court ruled the negligence claims of the plaintiff based on vicarious liability were properly dismissed because the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act created immunity to the ski area.
The final claim was the negligent hiring, supervision or training claim. The defendant argued that the ski area was not liable because the plaintiff could establish a causal connection between her injury and the fact the snowboarder worked for the defendant ski area.
However, the court found that the plaintiff had “failed to brief this argument sufficiently for appellate review…” so the court declined to review the issue.
The motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendant ski area was upheld, and the plaintiff’s claims dismissed.
So Now What?
In this one case, there are two examples of what could happen if a party to litigation did not adequately raise an issue and the trial court and fully and properly brief and argue the issue at the appellate court.
In one case, an issue not even reviewed at the lower court was used by the court to grand the defendant’s motion and in the other case an issue that was raised but not adequately argued on appeal was dismissed.
Neither way is a reliable way to win a lawsuit. Always raise every possible claim and/or defense in your pleadings and at trial. Always get into the record either by witnesses, offers of proof or other evidence sufficient facts and legal arguments to create a record on appeal that the appellate court cannot ignore.
The other issue which was brought out by the court but not raised in its decision was the language on a sign and the back of the lift ticket take from the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act. This was in the first paragraphs of this decision, which usually indicated the court finds it important. However, none of the information was argued to support the decision on appeal.
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