Ski Area not liable when skiers leave the ski run and collide with snow making equipment in Michigan.

Litigation ensued because an important term in the Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act was not defined in the act. What is a ski run?

Round v. Trinidad Resort & Club, LLC (Mich. App. 2022)

State: Michigan; Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Cheryle A. Round, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Charles R. Round

Defendant: Trinidad Resort & Club, LLC, Schuss Mountain

Plaintiff Claims: negligence action, alleging that defendant failed to comply with duties imposed under the SASA

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant ski area

Year: 2022

Summary

Lawsuit against a ski area was based on a term in the statute that was not defined, forcing the court to define the term. What is a ski run? The decedent skied into snow making equipment and died. If on the ski run, the equipment must be marked. The equipment was not marked. The court also ruled over and embankment, not on snow and 15-25 feet from the edge of the run, the snow making equipment was not on the ski run.

Facts

On December 21, 2019, plaintiff’s decedent, Charles R. Round, died after allegedly sustaining fatal injuries when he collided with snow-making equipment at Schuss Mountain, a ski area owned and operated by defendant. At the time, Round was participating in an event called the Tannenbaum Blitzen parade whereby volunteer skiers ski down an unlit hill-known as Kingdom Come-at night while carrying lighted torches, eventually getting to the bottom of the hill to light the ski resort’s Christmas tree. Round was leading the parade of skiers-as he had for several years-when he suddenly veered to his left and skied beyond the edge of the ski run. A ski lift was located on the edge of the ski run and, underneath the ski lift, were four permanent snow-making machines installed at various points up the hill. At about the half-way point of the ski hill, Round crossed into this area, collided with a snow-making machine, and sustained severe injuries that proved fatal.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

Pursuant to Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act, a ski area is not liable for injuries to its patrons for collisions with snow making equipment if the snow making equipment is “properly marked or plainly visible.”

§ 408.342. Duties of skier in ski area; acceptance of dangers.

(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 snow-making or snow-grooming equipment.

The plaintiff argued the snow making equipment was not marked and had to be marked because it was located on the ski run. The defendant argued that the snow making equipment was not on the ski run. Ski run is not defined by the Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act. The Michigan Appellate Court then had to use the plain meeting of the terms to derive a definition.

At minimum, the plain meaning of the phrase “ski run” for purposes of the SASA must include a path or route expected to be used for skiing down a hill. Indeed, ski runs are named, designed, constructed, groomed, and designated as the route skiers are to use for skiing down a particular hill. As this Court similarly noted in Rhoda v O’Dovero, Inc, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals: “Although the SASA does not define the terms ‘run,’ ‘slope’ or ‘trail,’ the plain, ordinary and common meanings of these terms encompass the paths a skier or snowboarder takes to get down a hill, including those paths designed and constructed by the ski operator for precisely that purpose.”

The court then went into the depositions presented by the defendant, witnesses who described the location of the snow making equipment when the deceased hit it.

The decedent was found 22′ off the run, over an embankment under the snow gun. It took several repetitions to move the deceased in a toboggan from where he was back up to the ski run.

The court reasoned if the snow gun which the deceased collided with was located on the trail, the other skiers following him would have hit the snow gun also.

The Appellate court sent the case back to the trail court with an order to grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case.

So Now What?

Short and sweet, but educational because of the issues the statute left out. Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act is a combination of a skier safety act and a tramway act. Consequently, it is quite long with little have much to do with how the ski area is to operate. The act has definitions but most deal with the structure of the tramway issues.

When one term, as in this case ski run is used to defined part of a statute, that term needs to be defined, or we end up in a position like this, litigation to define what is a ski run.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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