What is Skiing? In New Hampshire, the definition does not include tubbing in 2004.Posted: March 7, 2016
Definition of the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act in 2004 was not written broadly enough to include tubing.
State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire
Plaintiff: Alaina Sweeney
Defendant: Ragged Mountain Ski Area, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence
Defendant Defenses: New Hampshire Skier Safety Act
Holding: Reversed and Remanded, sent back to trial for the Plaintiff
Colorado’s ski area statute uses the term skier to describe anyone on the resort property. That means the term skier also includes snowboarders, telemark skiers, bike skiers, Nordic skier and tubers.
The plaintiff went tubing at the defendant’s tubbing hill. The hill was only for tubing and did not allow skiing on the tubing hill. No employees were present at the tubing hill when the plaintiff was tubing. While tubing she crossed from one lane to the other and collided with another tuber.
She sued, and the ski area argued to the trial court that the New Hampshire Ski Area Safety Act defined skier to include tubers. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint.
The plaintiff appealed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The New Hampshire Ski Area Safety Act has been amended since this case to include in the definition of skier a snow tuber. At the time of this case, the definition of skier, which is what the controlled was defined “A “skier” is defined as “a person utilizing the ski area under the control of a ski area operator for the purpose of utilizing the ski slopes, trails, jumps or other areas.”
A court look or examining a statute cannot broaden the definitions in the statute unless the statute specifically grants the court that right. Although the courts are the final arbiter of a statute, the review is limited to what the legislature put into the statute.
We are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. We first examine the language of the statute, and, where possible, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. When the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, we need not look beyond it for further indication of legislative intent.
When a statute such as this one changes the common law, the statute must be interpreted strictly. The presumption in a law like this is the statute took away rights, not created or added additional ones. Here the statute created immunity for ski areas, taking away the common law right to sue so the statute was to be interpreted strictly.
Accordingly, then, immunity provisions barring the common law right to recover are to be strictly construed. We have often stated that we will not interpret a statute to abrogate the common law unless the statute clearly expresses that intent.
The court then looked at how ski slopes, trails, jumps or other areas were defined in the act to see if that included tubing hills. However, that definition was also specific and narrow.
Ski slopes, trails and areas” are further defined as “only those areas designated by the alpine or nordic ski operator on trail boards or maps . . . to be used by skiers for the purpose of participating in the sport of skiing.
Again, tubing was not part of the definition of the act. “Thus, a “skier” is limited to one who “participates in the sport of skiing,” and, as such, the statutory references to “skiers” necessarily inform our interpretation of the “sport of skiing.”
The court then went back and examined other parts of the New Hampshire Ski Safety Act to see if any part of the act could be used to provide protection to the ski area. The declaration, the first part of the statute detailing why the statute was created and the value of the statute to the state did not include a reference to tubing, only to skiing.
It shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to define the primary areas of responsibility of skiers and other users of alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross country and ski jumps) areas, recognizing that the sport of skiing and other ski area activities involve risks and hazards which must be assumed as a matter of law by those engaging in such activities, regardless of all safety measures taken by the ski area operators.
The court found that based on the declaration, the purpose and focus of the statute was for alpine and Nordic ski area. Because the plaintiff was not utilizing an alpine or Nordic slope, the plaintiff was not a skier. As such there was no protection afforded by the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act because the act, at the time of the lawsuit, only protected ski areas from skiers.
The trial court dismissal was overthrown, and the case sent back to proceed to trial.
So Now What?
There is an old adage that says the law grinds slowly but grinds finely. Meaning the law works slowly but when it works to solve the problem. Here the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act was probably enacted prior to the interest in tubing. Many other states with skier safety statutes have broader definitions of a skier who in most cases includes tubing. In some cases, the definition of a skier is a person on the ski area for any purpose.
Here the act was written narrowly, the definitions were not broad enough to include tubing. Nor were the definitions able to be broadened because that power was not provided to the court by the legislature when it passed the act.
Of real interest is the idea that no employees were present on the tubing hill at the time of the accident. It does not say, but the tubing hill probably did not include a lift and people walked up hill pulling a tube.
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