Utah courts like giving money to injured kids. This decision does clarify somewhat murky prior decisions about the defenses provided to a ski area in Utah: there are none.

A minor was hurt during ski racing practice by hitting a mound of machine-made snow. The Utah Skier Safety Act is weak and Utah Supreme Court interpretations of the act do nothing but weaken it more. This act clarified those weaknesses and what a Utah ski area can do to protect itself from lawsuits, which is not much really. This court, not finding the act weak enough, agreed with the Utah Supreme Court and eliminated releases as a defense for ski areas in the state of Utah.

Rutherford v. Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC, 2014 UT App 190; 767 Utah Adv. Rep. 41; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 201

State: Utah

Plaintiff: Philip Rutherford and Wendy Rutherford, on Behalf of Their Minor Child, Levi Rutherford

Defendant: Talisker Canyons Finance Co., LLC and ASC UTAH, LLC (The Canyons Ski Area) and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

Plaintiff Claims: the machine that produced the snow mound was not functioning properly, that the Ski Resort could have warned patrons of the hazard by marking the mound or closing the trail, and that the Ski Resort did not adequately monitor the snowmaking taking place on the Retreat run that day

Defendant Defenses: release, Utah Ski Act,

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2014

Utah famously does not award money for adults who are injured; however, if a minor is injured, as a defendant, be prepared to write a big check. For such a conservative state, the judgments for a minor’s injuries can be massive. In this case, the trial court bent over backwards to allow a case by a minor to proceed even with numerous valid defenses. In all but one case, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs.

The minor was going to a race practice. He skied down the hill without changing his position and not turning. He hit a mound of man-made snow and was hurt. His parents sued.

The plaintiff’s sued the resort, Canyons which was identified in the case citation by two different names. The plaintiff also sued the US Ski and Snowboard Association, which were not part of the appeal, but mentioned frequently.

The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal after all of their motions of summary judgment were denied. An Interlocutory appeal is one that is made to a higher court before the lower court has issued a final ruling. The appeal is based on intermediary rulings of the trial court. The appeal can only be heard upon a limited set of rules, which are set out by each of the courts. Interlocutory appeals are rare, normally, when the decision of the lower court will force a new trial because of the rulings if the case goes to trial.

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

The first issue is the application of the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act to the case. The trial court ruled the plaintiff was not a competitor as defined by the act. Like many state ski acts the act; a competitor assumes greater risks, and the ski area owes fewer duties to competitors. The trial court based this decision on its review of the facts and determined:

…skiing on an open run that any member of the public could ski on” and that his accident indisputably did not occur during a ski race, while skiing through gates, or while otherwise “negotiating for training purposes something that had been specifically designated as a race course

However, the plaintiffs in their motions and pleadings as well as the plaintiff’s expert witness report stated the minor plaintiff was engaged in race training and practice. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision on this. However, instead of holding the plaintiff was a competitor and assumed more risk; the appellate court required the trial court to determine if plaintiff’s “engagement in race training at the time of his injury is truly undisputed by the parties.”

The next issue was whether the phrase machine-made snow in the act was an inherent risk or an exemption from the risks assumed. The plaintiff’s argued the snow machine was malfunctioning and because of that the resort was negligent. The statute states:

§ 78B-4-402.  Definitions

    (b) snow or ice conditions as they exist or may change, such as hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made snow;

The appellate court agreed with the trial court because the supreme court of Utah had found the Utah act:

…does not purport to grant ski area operators complete immunity from all negligence claims initiated by skiers” but protects ski-area operators “from suits to recover for injuries caused by one or more of the dangers listed [in the Act] only to the extent those dangers, under the facts of each case, are integral aspects of the sport of skiing.

This interpretation of the act is the exact opposite of how statutes are normally interpreted and how all other courts have interpreted other state skier safety acts. Instead of providing protection, the act simply lists items the act may protect from litigation. The act is to be interpreted every time by the trial court to determine if the risk encountered by the skier in Utah was something the act my say the skier assumed.

This means most injuries will receive some money from the ski area. The injured skier can sue and the resort and its insurance company will settle for a nominal amount rather than pay the cost of going to trial to prove the injury was something that was an inherent risk as defined by the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act.

The court as part of this analysis then looked at the phrase “inherent risk.”

The term ‘inherent risk of skiing,’ using the ordinary and accepted meaning of the term ‘inherent,’ refers to those risks that are essential characteristics of skiing–risks that are so integrally related to skiing that the sport cannot be undertaken without confronting these risks.

This is a normal definition applied to inherent risk. However, the court then went on and quoted the Utah Supreme court as stating.

The court divided these risks into two categories, the first of which represents “those risks, such as steep grades, powder, and mogul runs, which skiers wish to confront as an essential characteristic of skiing.” Under the Act, “a ski area operator is under no duty to make all of its runs as safe as possible by eliminating the type of dangers that skiers wish to confront as an integral part of skiing.”

The second category of risks consists of those hazards which no one wishes to confront but cannot be alleviated by the use of reasonable care on the part of a ski resort,” such as weather and snow conditions that may “suddenly change and, without warning, create new hazards where no hazard previously existed. For this category of risks, “[t]he only duty ski area operators have . . . is the requirement set out in [the Act] that they warn their patrons, in the manner prescribed in the statute, of the general dangers patrons must confront when participating in the sport of skiing.

Then the interpretation of the Supreme Court decision goes off the chart.

However, this does not exonerate a ski-area operator from any “duty to use ordinary care to protect its patrons”; “if an injury was caused by an unnecessary hazard that could have been eliminated by the use of ordinary care, such a hazard is not, in the ordinary sense of the term, an inherent risk of skiing and would fall outside of [the Act].”

Instead of the act providing protection from a list of risks that are part and parcel of skiing, the act in Utah only provides of hazards that if not eliminated will still allow litigation. That is any injury is worth filing suit over because the cost of defending the case will exceed the cost of settling.

How does this apply in this case? The act refers to machine made snow. The complaint states the plaintiff was injured because the snow making machine was not functioning properly. There was no allegation that the snow was at issue, which is protected by the act, just the machine that makes the snow. However, this was enough for the trial court and the appellate court to say the act did not provide immunity for the ski area.

That is the defense of the tree on the side of the road scared me, so I opened the passenger-side door and knocked down the pedestrian. If the snow making machine was malfunctioning, unless it is making “bad” snow that has nothing to do with hitting a mound of snow.

The next issue is the defense of release. This part of the decision actually makes sense.

The US Ski and Snowboard Association has members sign releases. The majority of racing members of the USSA are minors, hoping to become major racers for the US. The USSA is based in Park City, Utah. Utah has always held that a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue. So the USSA made its choice of law provision Colorado in an attempt to take advantage of Colorado’s laws on releases and minors and releases. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.)

However, courts won’t and this court did not, let you get away with such a stretch. The venue and jurisdiction clause in a release must have a basis with where the defendant is located, where the activity (and as such accident) happens or where the plaintiff lives. Here the USSA is based in Park City Utah, the plaintiff lives in Utah and the accident happened in Utah; the Utah trial court and Appellate court properly held the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release was not valid.

On top of that, you need to justify why you are using a foreign state for venue and jurisdiction, in the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release. You need to state with a reasonable degree of plausibility why you are putting the venue in a certain place if it is not the location where the parties are located or the accident occurred. State in the release that in order to control litigation, the jurisdiction and venue of any action will be in the state where the defendant is located.

The release was thrown out before getting to whether a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue, which the Utah Supreme Court has never upheld. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.) However, the appellate court reviewed this issue and also threw the release out because Utah does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. (The Utah Equine and Livestock Activities Act has been amended to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for Equine injuries.)

The court then looked at what releases are viable in the ski industry in Utah. In 90 days, the Utah Supreme Court voided a release in a ski case and then upheld a release in a ski case. (See Utah Supreme Court Reverses long position on releases in a very short period of time.) This court stated the differences where a release is void under Utah’s law for recreational skiers. “Our supreme court has interpreted this public policy statement as prohibiting pre-injury releases of liability for negligence obtained by ski-area operators from recreational skiers.”

The public policy statement is the preamble of the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act.

The Legislature finds that the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state. It further finds that few insurance carriers are willing to provide liability insurance protection to ski area operators and that the premiums charged by those carriers have risen sharply in recent years due to confusion as to whether a skier assumes the risks inherent in the sport of skiing. It is the purpose of this act; therefore, to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and the risks inherent in that sport, to establish as a matter of law that certain risks are inherent in that sport, and to provide that, as a matter of public policy, no person engaged in that sport shall recover from a ski operator for injuries resulting from those inherent risks.

Simply put this is an analysis of the action of the legislature, by the court, to say, the legislature gave you this, so we, the court, are going to take away releases.

In other words, the Act prohibits pre-injury releases of liability for negligence entirely, regardless of the age of the skier who signed the release or whether the release was signed by a parent on behalf of a child.

The court explained that the Act was designed to strike a “bargain” with ski-area operators by freeing them “from liability for inherent risks of skiing so that they could continue to shoulder responsibility for noninherent risks by purchasing insurance.

The court then looked at whether this release could be applied if the plaintiff was a competitive skier? (Yeah, confusing to me also.)

Following that confusing analysis this court then determined the release by a competitive skier was also invalid, contrary to what the Supreme Court had decided in Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, ¶ 17, 171 P.3d 442. However, the court rationalized the analysis by saying the amendment to the ski act, which occurred before the Berry decision, but after the accident giving rise to Berry, made a competitive skier the same as a recreational skier for the purposes of the act therefore no releases were valid in Utah for skiing.

Here is the conclusion of the case.

The trial court’s determination that Levi was not engaged in race training at the time of his injury, especially in the face of the fact, apparently undisputed by the parties, that he was injured during racing practice, was improper in the context of the Ski Resort’s motions for summary judgment. The trial court correctly denied the Ski Resort’s joinder in the Ski Team’s motion for summary judgment based on the Act and correctly granted the Rutherfords’ related partial motion for summary judgment, based on the court’s determination that there were disputed issues of material fact regarding the applicability of the machine-made snow exemption. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the Ski Resort’s motion for summary judgment based on the USSA release and the court’s determination that the Colorado choice-of-law provision in the USSA release is inapplicable here. We agree with the trial court that the release, as it pertains to the Ski Resort, is unenforceable under Utah law, but base this conclusion on different grounds than the trial court.

It almost reads like it is a normal case. The court sent the issue back to the lower court, basically handing the plaintiff the decision. The only thing left to do is determine the amount.

So Now What?

It’s a kid thing in Utah. Kids get hurt the courts’ hand out money. Even the ski industry is not big enough, or organized enough, to do anything about it.

I don’t know of any other reason why this decision would come out this way.

This decision which eliminates releases as a defense for the ski area may trickle down to other recreational activities. Let’s hope not.

So we know the following about Utah and ski areas.

1.       Releases are not a valid defense unless you are racing, actually on the course for a race or practice.

2.      A competitor under the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act is only a competitor when racing or running gates.

3.      The Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act only sets out the defenses available to a ski area if they ski area was not negligent and could not have prevented the accident or risk which caused the accident.

4.      Minor’s in Utah always win.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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What is the basis for the snowboarder’s lawsuit against ALTA & the USFS? Number 1 question I’ve been asked the last 2 weeks, so I asked

I met the attorney representing the four snowboarders and two of the plaintiff’s in their suit to open ALTA to snowboarding. They are committed and not just 20 something losers in Colorado to check out the lawns…..

Here was the statement on how and why I got from their attorney Jonathan R. Schofield.

Although Alta was one of the first resorts to allow snowboarding, Alta began banning snowboarders from its public land in the 1980s with the approval of the U.S. Forest Service.  Meanwhile, Alta invites “skiers” of all ages and ability levels on this same land regardless of, among other things, the size, shape, or type of “ski” actually used.  For instance, a variety of skis, mono-skis, and even tele-boards are all allowed at Alta, even though they are nearly identical to snowboards in many respects.  On its face, Alta’s no-snowboarding policy treats snowboarders differently than skiers by excluding snowboarders from equal access to public land.

The Constitution guarantees fairness of the laws, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that similarly-situated persons will be treated alike unless governmental discrimination is, at a minimum, rationally related to a legitimate interest.  Because Alta operates under a government permit on public land and the Forest Service approves Alta’s actions, Alta and the Forest Service are government actors and their conduct must be lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.  Arguably, Alta has a legitimate interest in safely and effectively operating a ski resort under its permit.  However, as alleged in the lawsuit, there is no rational relationship between Alta’s snowboarding ban and Alta’s interest in operating its resort.  The lawsuit further alleges that the reasons offered to justify the snowboarding ban are mere pretext for animus (dislike) of the type of people believed to be “snowboarders.”  Animus is inherently irrational and can never justify governmental discrimination.

The lawsuit is available in its entirety by clicking here.

If you want to stay on top of the suit, the group has a non-profit called Wasatch Equality, with a website here.

I don’t know if they are going to win, but I bought a t-shirt. J

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Jozewicz v. GGT Enterprises, LLC; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53937

Jozewicz v. GGT Enterprises, LLC; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53937

Laura Jozewicz, Plaintiff, vs. GGT Enterprises, Llc; K2 Corporation; and Jarden Corporation, Defendants.

Case No. 2:09-cv-00215-CW

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH, CENTRAL DIVISION

2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53937

June 2, 2010, Decided

June 2, 2010, Filed

CORE TERMS: public policy concern, preinjury, binding, alert, distributor, rental, consumer products, consumer, retailer, citation omitted, ski, risks of injury, skiing, sports, skis, serious injury, manufacturer, recreational, invalidated, safety standards, public policy, unreasonable risk, manufacture, notice, hazard, release agreement, unenforceable, collectively, inventory, rented

COUNSEL: [*1] For Laura Jozewicz, an individual, Plaintiff: Jordan P. Kendell, Robert G. Gilchrist, LEAD ATTORNEYS, EISENBERG & GILCHRIST, SALT LAKE CITY, UT.

For K2, a Delaware corporation, Defendant: Cobie W. Spevak, Gainer M. Waldbillig, LEAD ATTORNEYS, FORD & HUFF LC (SLC), SALT LAKE CITY, UT.

For Jarden, a Delaware corporation, Defendant: Gainer M. Waldbillig, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cobie W. Spevak, FORD & HUFF LC (SLC), SALT LAKE CITY, UT.

For GGT Enterprises, a Utah corporation, Defendant: Adam Strachan, LEAD ATTORNEY, STRACHAN STRACHAN & SIMON, LITIGATION, PARK CITY, UT.

JUDGES: Clark Waddoups, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Clark Waddoups

OPINION

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

While skiing at Alta ski area, Plaintiff Laura Jozewicz (“Jozewicz”) fell and injured her neck. Jozewicz contends she fell because the binding on her skis unexpectedly released due to a product defect. Jozewicz rented the skis from Defendant GGT Enterprises, LLC (“GGT”). At the time of rental, a recall notice was in effect for the binding, but GGT did not remove the product from its rental inventory. Nevertheless, GGT seeks dismissal of Jozewicz’s negligence claim on the basis that she signed a release from liability at the time she rented [*2] the skis. For the reasons discussed below, the court denies GGT’s motion to dismiss.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On March 17, 2008, GGT rented skis to Jozewicz. On March 18, 2008, Jozewicz fell and injured her neck while skiing at Alta ski area. Jozewicz claims her fall occurred when the Marker MI Demo binding on her rental ski released unexpectedly. Jozewicz alleges that Defendants K2 Corporation and Jarden Corporation (collectively “K2/Jarden”) manufactured the ski binding. Prior to Jozewicz’s fall, K2/Jarden notified the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (“Commission”) regarding the binding, and the Commission subsequently issued a recall alert on May 30, 2007, due to “Unexpected Release, Fall Hazard.” 1 The recall alert stated that “[s]ki shops with these bindings in their rental inventory should not rent this equipment to consumers until it has been upgraded.” 2 The recall further stated that “[s]kiers can unitentionally displace a lever at the rear of the binding,” which “[i]f it is fully displaced, . . . can result in the unexpected release of the binding and possibly cause the user to fall.” 3

1 Recall Alert (May 30, 2007) (Docket No. 29, Ex. A).

2 Id.

3 Id.

Prior to renting her [*3] skis from GGT, Jozewicz signed an “Equipment Rental and Liability Release Agreement,” which states in relevant part:

I understand that the binding system cannot guarantee the user’s safety. In downhill skiing, the binding systems will not release at all times or under all circumstances where release may prevent injury or death, nor is it possible to predict every situation in which it will release. . . .

I understand that the sports of skiing, snowboarding, skiboarding, snowshoeing and other sports (collectively “RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS”) involve inherent risks of INJURY and DEATH. I voluntarily agree to expressly assume all risks of injury or death that may result from these RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS, or which relate in any way to the use of this equipment. . . .

I AGREE TO RELEASE AND HOLD HARMLESS the equipment rental facility, its employees, owner, affiliates, agents, officers, directors and the equipment manufacturers and distributors and their successors in interest (collectively “PROVIDERS”), from all liability for injury, death, property loss and damage which results from the equipment user’s participation in the RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS for which the equipment is provided, or [*4] which is related in any way to the use of this equipment, including all liability which results from the NEGLIGENCE of PROVIDERS, or any other person or cause.

I further agree to defend and indemnify PROVIDERS for any loss or damage, including any that results from claims or lawsuits for personal injury, death, and property loss and damage related in any way to the use of this equipment. 4

GGT claims the release agreement bars Jozewicz’s negligence claim.

4 Equipment Rental & Liability Release Agreement (Docket No. 13, Ex. 2) (emphasis in original).

ANALYSIS

I. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

Defendant GGT brings this motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, as distinguished from conclusory allegations, and those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” 5 The complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 6 “The court’s function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff’s complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim [*5] for which relief may be granted.” 7 Consequently, a court does not look at evidence outside of a pleading to determine such motions. 8 If a court does rely “on material from outside the pleadings, the court converts the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” 9 Because the court relies on material outside of the pleadings in this case, the court converts this motion into a motion for summary judgment.

5 Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

6 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

7 Peterson v. Grisham, 594 F.3d 723, 727 (10th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

8 Dobsen v. Anderson, No. 08-7018, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 22820, at *8-9 (10th Cir. Nov. 4, 2008).

9 Id. at *9 (quotations and citation omitted).

II. PREINJURY RELEASES

A. Limitations on Preinjury Releases

Without question, individuals “may contract away their rights to recover in tort for damages caused by the ordinary negligence of others.” 10 The Utah Supreme Court has recognized, however, “that preinjury releases are not unlimited in power and can be invalidated in certain circumstances,” including when (1) the release offends public policy, (2) the release is for activities [*6] that fit within the public interest exception, or (3) the release is unclear or ambiguous. 11 The second limitation is not at issue here because “preinjury releases for recreational activities,” such as skiing, “cannot be invalidated under the public interest exception.” 12 Likewise, the third limitation is not at issue because Jozewicz conceded during oral argument that the release is not unclear or ambiguous. Thus, the prevailing issue in this case is whether a public policy concern overwhelms the effect of the preinjury release that Jozewicz signed.

10 Pearce v. Utah Athletic Found., 2008 UT 13, P 14, 179 P.3d 760, 765 (citations omitted).

11 Id. (citations omitted).

12 Id. P 18.

B. Public Policy Considerations

Preinjury releases must be compatible with public policy to be enforceable. 13 Previously, the Utah Supreme Court has invalidated preinjury releases when they were contrary to public policy set forth in statutory provisions. The court has recognized that “[w]hen . . . the Legislature clearly articulates public policy, and the implications of that public policy are unmistakable, we have the duty to honor those expressions of policy in our rulings.” 14 Thus, in Hawkins v. Peart, the [*7] Utah Supreme Court held that public policy invalidated a preinjury release signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. 15 The court looked to Utah statute and found that it “provides various checks on parental authority to ensure a child’s interests are protected.” 16 In particular, it found that when a child is injured, statutory law precludes a parent from settling a claim, unless the parent is appointed as conservator for the child. 17 Based on this clear legislative intent to protect a minor’s interest post injury, the court concluded that a preinjury release for a minor child likewise was unenforceable. 18

13 Id. P 15 (citing Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, P 7, 175 P.3d 560).

14 Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, P 20, 175 P.3d 560.

15 Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, PP 12-13, 37 P.3d 1062.

16 Id. P 11.

17 Id. (citing Utah Code Ann. § 75-5-404 (1993)).

18 Id. PP 12-13.

As applicable to this case, Congress has expressed its concern about product defects that pose a significant risk of injury or death. In an effort to protect the public from such defects, it enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act (the “Act”). The stated purpose of the Act is:

(1) to protect the public against unreasonable [*8] risks of injury associated with consumer products; (2) to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products; (3) to develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting State and local regulations; and (4) to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, illnesses, and injuries. 19

Through this legislation, Congress has stated its intent to create laws that protect the public from unreasonable risk of harm from defective products and to provide a uniform regulatory scheme to promote product safety.

19 15 U.S.C. § 2051(b) (2010).

Under 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b), manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are required to notify the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission when they become aware a product (1) fails to comply with applicable safety standards, (2) fails to comply with other rules, regulations, standards, or bans under any acts enforced by the Commission, (3) “contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard,” or (4) “creates unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.” 20 Recall alerts arising from such notices are specifically designed to prevent serious [*9] injuries. Under 15 U.S.C. § 2068, manufacturers and distributors are charged with honoring the recall alerts issued by the Commission. The law in effect at the time of Jozewicz’s accident stated:

It shall be unlawful for any person to —

(1) manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any consumer product which is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety standard under this chapter;

(2) manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any consumer product which has been declared a banned hazardous product by a rule under this chapter. 21

20 Id. § 2064(b).

21 Id. § 2068(a)(1)-(2) (2006). This Section was amended on August 14, 2008, after Jozewicz’s injury occurred. Section 2068(a) now prohibits the sale, manufacture for sale, distribution, or importation of any product (1) “that is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety rule,” (2) that is subject to a voluntary corrective action, (3) that is an imminent hazard and subject to a Commission’s order, or (4) that is a banned hazardous substance. Id. § 2068(a)(1)-(2) (2010).

Congress enacted the statute to ensure [*10] safe products are provided to the public and to limit the risk of injury. Once a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer reports a defect to the Commission and a recall alert is published, the alert would have no effect if other retailers were not required to take action to correct the defect or remove the product from their inventory. The law requires distributors and retailers to heed recall alerts issued by the Commission and ensure defective products are either fixed or not sold.

Jozewicz argues that Congress’s public policy concern to prevent unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to the public meets the public policy standard set forth by the Utah Supreme Court, and therefore invalidates her release of GGT’s negligence. GGT contends, however, that Congress did not intend for the Consumer Product Safety Act to preempt state law, and no private cause of action exists under 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b). While this is true, this does not nullify the stated public policy concerns that override the right of parties to contract away tort liability. The rental of the ski bindings at issue in this case became unlawful once the recall notice became effective. Public policy should not favor [*11] allowing a party to insulate itself from harms caused to others arising from unlawful acts. Moreover, a decision that public policy causes a preinjury release to be invalid in this case does not cause GGT to be held liable under the Act, nor does it preempt state law. It merely recognizes Congress’s concern to minimize unreasonable risk to the public of serious injury or death. Such a concern is particularly relevant when a latent defect exists of which distributors and retailers are or should be aware, but not a consumer.

The implication of allowing distributors and retailers to contract away liability for noncompliance with established safety standards would increase the risk of injury and would be contrary to Congress’s express public policy concerns. Furthermore, validating the release of liability for noncompliance with Federal law would effectively reduce or eliminate the responsibility that distributors and retailers have to make sure the products they sell or rent are safe. Public policy should encourage compliance with safety laws, not disregard for such laws. Due to a strong public interest in ensuring adherence to recall alerts, the court concludes that GGT’s release is unenforceable [*12] as a matter of public policy.

CONCLUSION

GGT’s preinjury release is unenforceable and invalid as a matter of public policy. For this reason, GGT’s motion is DENIED. 22

22 Docket No. 12.

DATED this 2nd day of June, 2010.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Clark Waddoups

Clark Waddoups

United States District Judge

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Utah Supreme Court Reverses long position on releases in a very short period of time.

Rothstein v. Snowbird Corporation (UT 2007)

In an amazing decision, the Utah Supreme Court ruled releases were no longer valid as a defense by Utah Ski Areas. With one statement, “We hold that the releases are contrary to the public policy of this state and are, therefore, unenforceable” place all outdoor recreation activities in Utah at risk.

In more confusing is the same Utah Supreme Court less than 90 days earlier had upheld a release signed by a skier in Berry v. Greater Park City Company, 2007 UT 87; 171 P.3d 442; 590 Utah Adv. Rep. 3; 2007 Utah LEXIS 192.

Yet 50 days later the same court upheld an injured skier’s right to sue, even though the skier had signed two different releases. In Rothstein the plaintiff had signed a release for his season pass at the defendant resort and a release for his Seven Summits Club Membership. Rothstein was injured when he skied into a retaining wall above where the wall had been roped off. There was a light dusting of snow which partially or did hide the retaining wall.

The court then analyzed the legislatures intention in creating the Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 78-27-51 to -54 (2002 & Supp. 2007) and concluded the act was enacted to help ski areas keep insurance costs down. In effect because the legislature had enacted an act to help the resorts, the resorts were limited solely to the defenses provided by the act.

For an analysis of this case see: Utah Supreme Court flip flop on releases for ski areas could have broader consequence (Subscription).