You cannot assume the risk of a recreational activity if the defendant alters the activity and adds risk that he does not inform the guest about.Posted: September 11, 2017
If you run PVC pipe across the slope that blends in with the slope, a skier coming down the hill does not assume the risk of hitting PVC pipe. PVC does not fall from the sky, is not natural, and in 50 years of skiing it not something I’ve ever seen on a slope.
State: New York
Plaintiff: Judy Zhou, et al
Defendant: Tuxedo Ridge, LLC, et al.
Plaintiff Claims: negligence
Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk and the mother should have watched her daughter more closely
Holding: for the defendant
There are two defenses in this case. The first is assumption of the risk. The standard defense used for injuries arising from activities in outdoor recreational activities. The second is not discussed by the court but one we have all wanted to argue at least once.
The defendant makes several arguments in support of summary judgment, including that the mother of the plaintiff should have supervised her daughter more closely and assumption of risk.
The defendant is not at risk because the mother let the child do what the child wanted and did not supervise the child. Ski areas are not baby sitters. If you buy a minor a lift ticket, the ski area knows the lift ticket allows access by the minor to whatever lift the minor wanted to ride and to come down any hill the minor wants to ride.
However, if that child is injured, the ski area should not have allowed that child on the lift because it was too dangerous.
That argument is a landmine to make in court. Mothers of injured children are liked by juries because they feel for the pain the mother is suffering. And who in their right mind would say that a mother is doing a bad job of raising their kids.
The other defense assumption of the risk would have won the case if the defendant had not laid down PVC pipe on the slope in a way that no one could see the pipe. The pipe was there to create a coral to lead skiers back to the lift. However, when you can’t see it, don’t know it’s there, and hit it, it is hard to argue that PVC is a natural risk of skiing.
The facts are quite simple.
…the defendants cut a portion of the Bunny Hill slope by installing white PVC plumbing pipes to create a corral line leading to the chairlift. The PVC pipes were as hard as metal plumbing pipes and, at the same time, blended into the slope’s white snow and were not clearly visible to a skier in motion, let alone a novice skier such as the plaintiff infant. These obstructions blocked a portion of the snowy slope and were in the path of a skier’s descent. Although the defendants maintained nylon netting at the site, it did not place a fence or netting on the slope above the area to prevent and catch children and novice skiers from coming into contact with the corral line’s PVC posts.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court started its analysis of the case with the famous Cardozo quote that created the defense of assumption of the risk.
The plaintiff was not seeking a retreat for meditation. Visitors were tumbling about the belt to the merriment of onlookers when he made his choice to join them. He took the chance of a like fate, with whatever damage to his body might ensue from such a fall. The timorous may stay at home.” Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 NY 479, 483, 166 N.E. 173 (1929)
However, the court quickly shifted its analysis to whether the injured minor plaintiff could have assumed the risk.
A seven-year-old skier could not assume the risk of a risk she was not properly educated about. Unless the risk is inherent, part of skiing, or known, understood and accepted by the plaintiff, or part of the risk of the sport, the plaintiff cannot assume the risk.
So Now What?
If the PVC pipe were visible; fenced, painted red, behind warning signs, this case would have gone the other direction. However, when you hide a risk not only do you lose the assumption of risk defense, but you might also set yourself up for a reckless or willful charge that could lead to greater damages.
Seriously, don’t be stupid is the bigger thing to learn from this case.
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