Case sent back to trial court to determine liability when a rider improperly load’s a chairlift at a ski area and eventually falls, incurring no injuries.

Arizona allows lawsuits for mental anguish when there is no physical injury.

McCaw v. Ariz. Snowbowl Resort, 84 Arizona Cases Digest 9, 521 P.3d 381 (Ariz. App. 2022)

State: Arizona; Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division 1.

Plaintiff: Vincent MCCAW; Carly McCaw; Andrew McCaw

Defendant: Arizona Snowbowl Resort

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence causing emotional distress” and “psychiatric injuries

Defendant Defenses: Arizona Ski Safety Act

Holding: For the Plaintiffs

Year: 2022


Arizona appellate court holds that the Arizona Skier Safety Act does not protect ski areas from claims for injuries from chair lifts. The act covers the inherent risks of skiing/boarding but those acts are under the control of the ski area, and the rider has no control over a chair lift.


In December 2016, Vincent and his two children, 17-year-old Andrew and 14-year-old Carly, visited Snowbowl for a day of skiing and snowboarding. While they waited to load the ski chair lift, Andrew’s snowboard crossed Carly’s skis, causing her skis to “[go] out [from] underneath her.” Unable to steady herself and sit properly, Carly’s arms caught the approaching lift chair, leaving her “in a very severe slouch” position. With the skis and snowboard still entangled and believing she “would be able to get back on” properly, Carly did not attempt to maneuver away from the chair as it proceeded five to ten feet along a cable wire before beginning its ascent.

Upon realizing Carly’s precarious position, Vincent and Andrew grabbed her arms, turned toward the ski lift operator, and yelled for him to “stop” the ski lift. As other ski lift passengers became aware of the situation, they also began shouting at the operator for help. By that time, however, the operator was attending to other skiers in the load line and could not hear the passengers’ pleas over the sound of blaring music. Andrew and Vincent tried to hold onto Carly, but as she began to slip from their grasp, they determined they would have to let her go. When their chair traveled over powdered snow, Vincent and Andrew dropped Carly, hoping the unpacked snow would provide a safe landing. Carly fell over 34 feet but “popped right up” and waved to Vincent and Andrew upon landing.

After the ski lift incident, the McCaws resumed their normal lives and activities. However, Carly, Vincent, and Andrew began having recurring nightmares.

Alleging the ski lift incident caused them “emotional distress” and “psychiatric injuries,” the McCaws filed a negligence complaint against Snowbowl. Snowbowl answered, denying liability, and moved for summary judgment. Specifically, Snowbowl asserted that it “owed no duty” to the McCaws under the Act. Snowbowl also claimed that the McCaws failed to present evidence they sustained emotional distress “result[ing] in the kind of bodily manifestation of physical injury or illness cognizable under Arizona law.”

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

The court started out looking at Negligence as defined by Arizona’s law.

To establish a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of care; (2) a breach by the defendant of that standard; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages.”

Arizona’s law is no different than the majority of state laws in the US. The court then looked at duty. Too many times, defendant’s ski “duty” in their review of what the lawsuit is all about. Did you owe a duty to the injured person.

A duty is an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm. “The existence of a duty of care is a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case.”

“As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases.” “Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.”

Duties of care may arise from special relationships based on contract, family relations, or conduct undertaken by the defendant,” as well as from public policy considerations. “Foreseeability of harm is not a relevant consideration in determining the threshold legal issue of whether a duty exists, nor are case-specific facts.”

The plaintiff argued that the defendant ski area owed them a duty because they were business invitees of the defendant. A business invitee as defined by Arizona’s law is:

In this case, the McCaws assert that Snowbowl owed them a duty of care based on their special relationship and status as Snowbowl’s business invitees. “A business visitor is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land. Under the common law, a business owner has a duty to both maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition and conduct its business in a reasonably safe manner to avoid causing injury to invitees.

It is undisputed that the McCaws were Snowbowl’s business invitees at the time of the ski lift incident. The question is whether the Act abrogates common-law negligence principles, relieving ski area operators of a duty of care they would otherwise owe to ski lift passengers.

Business invitee is a term used to describe the legal relationship between an injured person on the land and the land owner. Because the resort received value from the plaintiff’s they were a business invitee.

The court then turned to the Arizona Skier Safety Act which was being reviewed for the first time by the courts.

Under the first tier, or “primary assumption of risk,” a ski area operator owes no duty to a skier as a matter of law, and a negligence action cannot stand. (“[P]rimary assumption of the risk is an alternative expression for the proposition that the defendant … owed no duty to the plaintiff.”). The primary assumption of the risk principle applies only when the plaintiff has engaged in a sport, or other activity regarded as dangerous and “the injury suffered arises from an inherent risk in the activity.” (“[F]or inherent hazards, ski area operators owe skiers no duty of care and skiers assume the risk of those hazards in the primary sense.”); (“To be covered under the [primary-assumption-of-the-risk] doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.”). Determining what constitutes an “inherent risk” presents a legal question for the court.

In contrast, under the secondary assumption of the risk tier, both the ski area operator and the skier have reciprocal responsibilities.

Using these definitions and applying the Arizona Skier Safety Act the court differentiated the duties owed to a skier versus those of a rider of the chair lift.

Applied to the Act, the primary assumption of risk tier governs any injury arising from the “inherent dangers and risks of skiing,” as statutorily defined. A.R.S. §§ 5-705(1), -701(5). Because a ski area operator owes no duty to eliminate or guard against risks inherent to skiing, it is only liable for a plaintiff’s injuries arising out of the dangers inherent to skiing if it breached its posting and equipment requirements as delineated in A.R.S. §§ 5-702 through -704, thereby contributing to the injuries sustained.

Because riding a chairlift is not an inherent risk of skiing, a different set of duties arises.

When an injury does not arise out of a risk inherent to skiing, common-law negligence principles apply, including a duty of care owed to business invitees. Because an operational failure with a ski lift is not an “inherent risk” of skiing, as that term is statutorily defined, the Act does not immunize a ski area operator from liability for ski lift negligence.

The rider of a chair lift is a business invitee, and the ski area owes that person different setup duties then someone who wonders upon their land. This analysis was supported by the argument that on the slopes and trails the rider had free will and could control their actions. On a chair lift, the rider was at the control and mercy of the chair lift operator.

This, too, is a rational solution because, unlike the slopes and trails, where a skier has “freedom of movement and choice,” a skier has no control over the movement of a ski lift.

This argument was summed up by the court as follows:

In sum, the Act provides a liability framework that generally maintains common-law negligence principles while immunizing ski area operators from lawsuits for injuries arising from the inherent risks of skiing. By its clear terms, the Act imposes a duty on skiers to have the knowledge and ability to safely load, ride, and unload from a ski lift, but it does not identify passage on a ski lift as an inherent risk of skiing.

After making this determination as to what part of the Arizona Skier Safety Act applied to what parts of skiing and riding, the court made this determination.

Having determined that ski area operators owe a duty of care to maintain and operate ski lifts safely and that passengers owe a duty of care to safely board, ride, and disembark ski lifts, whether Snowbowl or the McCaws, or both, breached their respective duties presents a question of fact.

If you are a skier or boarder, this decision might cause some issues. Was the resort at fault for not stopping the chair lift on time or was the skier at fault for not loading correctly. That question is now in the hands of the trial court again.

So Now What?

The Arizona court did not rule outside the parameters of any other court in a state that has a skier safety act. A higher degree of care is owed to clients in those situations where the act does not protect the ski area and/or the clients have no control of their situation.

One interesting note in the Arizona Skier Safety Act is § 5-706. Release of liability. This section specifically states that a release is valid under Arizona’s law and will take precedence in determining the liability of the ski area.

Another area the court did not touch on, but must be the law in Arizona is the lawsuit is about mental injury with no corresponding physical injury. Very few states allow this type of claim. Normally, there can be no damages for pain and suffering unless the claimant has suffered a physical injury.

For more Arizona decisions see:

Arizona University did not owe student a duty of care during a study abroad program when the students organized an “off campus” trip, which resulted in a student’s death

Arizona limited right for parent to waive child’s right to sue

Indoor trampoline park company held liable for its actions in creating safety rules for its sub-groups creating liability for itself from the sub-group’s customers.

Travel agents have a very limited duty to disclose, unless they know about a hazard. If you book for others, you are a travel agent.

For more decisions concerning lift accidents see:

Colorado Premises Liability act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner.

New Jersey decision explains the reasoning why ski areas owe the highest degree of care to people riding chairlifts.

Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard?

What happens when the trial judge rules correctly under the law but between the trial motions and the appeal the State Supreme Court Changes things? Things change

California case examines the relationship between a common carrier and public policy when applied to a ski area chair lift.

People including children fall off chair lifts.

Nevada family settles lawsuit over death of son swept off Nevada chair lift by Avalanche

New Jersey decision explains the reasoning why ski areas owe the highest degree of care to people riding chairlifts.

Good record keeping proves defendant ski area did not operate lift improperly

Jim Moss is an attorney specializing in the legal issues of the outdoor recreation community. He represents guides, guide services, outfitters both as businesses and individuals and the products they use for their business. He has defended Mt. Everest guide services, summer camps, climbing rope manufacturers; avalanche beacon manufactures and many more manufacturers and outdoor industries. Contact Jim at

Jim is the author or co-author of six books about the legal issues in the outdoor recreation world; the latest is Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law.

To see Jim’s complete bio go here and to see his CV you can find it here. To find out the purpose of this website go here.

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