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Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, 960 P.2d 70 (Colo. 1998)

Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, 960 P.2d 70 (Colo. 1998)
Eric Bayer, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Crested Butte
Mountain Resort, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.
No. 97SA145
Supreme Court
May 18, 1998
Petition for Rehearing DENIED. EN BANC. June 22, 1998
Certification of Questions of Law from the United States Court of
Appeals for the Tenth Circuit Pursuant to C.A.R. 21.1
CERTIFIED QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Jean E. Dubofsky, P.C., Jean E. Dubofsky, Boulder, Colorado, Purvis, Gray, Schuetze & Gordon, Robert A. Schuetze, Glen F. Gordon, Boulder, Colorado, Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant.

White & Steele, P.C., Glendon L. Laird, John M. Lebsack, Peter W. Rietz, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee.

EN BANC
JUSTICE KOURLIS dissents, and CHIEF JUSTICE VOLLACK joins in the dissent.
JUSTICE HOBBS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

[1] Pursuant to C.A.R. 21.1, we agreed to answer the following questions certified to us by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

What standard of care governs the duty owed by ski lift operators in Colorado to users of those lifts in the winter season?

Separately, and more particularly, does the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act and/or the Colorado Ski Safety and Liability Act preempt or otherwise supersede the pre-existing Colorado common law standard of care governing the duty owed by ski lift operators to users of those lifts in the winter season?

[2] These questions arise in connection with Eric Bayer’s negligence suit against Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc. (Crested Butte) involving serious injuries he sustained after falling approximately 30 feet from a ski lift at the Crested Butte ski area.

[3] The federal district court concluded that the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act (Tramway Act) and the Colorado Ski Safety and Liability Act (Ski Safety Act) have substituted a lesser degree of care for ski lift operators than the highest degree of care, thus superseding our holding in Summit County Development v. Bagnoli, 166 Colo. 27, 40, 441 P.2d 658, 664 (1968). Based on its ruling that a standard of ordinary care applies, the district court granted summary judgment and dismissed the case.

[4] In answering the certified questions, we reaffirm our holding in Bagnoli. A ski lift operator must exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with the lift’s practical operation, regardless of the season.

I.

[5] Eric Bayer, a 19-year-old college student and resident of Florida, was skiing at the Crested Butte ski area on December 31, 1992. He boarded the Paradise Lift, a double-chair, center pole lift, with a person whom he did not know. This lift was not equipped with restraining devices on the chairs. Bayer rode the Paradise Lift for about 100 yards, lost consciousness, slumped in his chair, and slid feet first to the ground below. He suffered serious and permanent head injuries from the fall. The cause of his unconsciousness remains unknown.

[6] The Passenger Tramway Safety Board (Board), which regulates ski lifts in Colorado, requires the use of restraining devices during summer lift operation but has no companion requirement for winter operation. Bayer does not dispute that Crested Butte complied with applicable Board regulations.

[7] The existence and scope of a legal duty of care is a question of law. See United Blood Servs. v. Quintana, 827 P.2d 509, 519 (Colo. 1992). In Bagnoli, we determined that a ski lift operator must exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with practical operation of a lift. Bagnoli, 166 Colo. at 40, 441 P.2d at 664. In answering the certified questions, we must determine whether the Tramway Act or the Ski Safety Act, or the two in combination, have modified or preempted our holding in Bagnoli.[fn1]

II.

[8] We hold that the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act, alone or in combination, have not preempted or superseded the common law standard requiring a ski lift operator to exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation of the ski lift. The General Assembly did not intend by either act to substitute a standard of care lesser than the highest degree.

[9] Under the Tramway Act, the primary responsibility for the design and operation of ski lifts, consistent with our holding in Bagnoli, rests with the operators; the board is to adopt reasonable standards for the industry, but these are not intended to preclude common law negligence actions or the duty to exercise the highest degree of care. The Ski Safety Act establishes the relative duties of skiers and ski area operators on the ski slopes, limits damage awards, and precludes liability claims resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, while expressly excluding ski lift accidents from these limitations.

A.

[10] The Highest Degree of Care

[11] A basic proposition of tort law is that the amount of care demanded by the standard of reasonable conduct must be in proportion to the risk; the greater the danger, the higher is the degree of caution which the person owing the duty must exercise. See W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts 34, at 208-09 (5th ed. 1984). As we said in Blueflame Gas, Inc. v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579, 587 (Colo. 1984), “It is axiomatic in the law of negligence that the greater the risk, the greater the amount of care required to avoid injury to others.”

[12] Our holding in Bagnoli squarely placed on lift operators the duty to exercise the highest degree of care consistent with the practical operation of the ski lift because (1) passengers give up their freedom of action and movement, surrendering themselves to the care and custody of the ski lift operator, (2) there is usually nothing passengers can do to cause or prevent the accident, and (3) the operator has exclusive possession and control of the ski lift. See Bagnoli, 166 Colo. at 40, 441 P.2d at 664. We derived these factors directly from our prior decision in Lewis v. Buckskin Joe’s, Inc., 156 Colo. 46, 56, 396 P.2d 933, 938-39 (1964), wherein we held that amusement ride operators must “exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation” of the ride.[fn2]

[13] Underlying our adoption in Bagnoli of the Lewis factors is that ski lifts are operated at considerable height from the ground over rough, elevated, often precipitous Colorado terrain. A fall from the lift can be calamitous. Passengers entrust their safety to the lift operators. Operation of a ski lift thus entails both greater danger and greater responsibility than circumstances involving ordinary care.

[14] In addressing the federal district court’s conclusion that the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act supersede Bagnoli, we first discuss the legislative design and purposes of the two acts.

B.

[15] The Tramway Act And The Ski Safety Act [16] The statutory canons of construction require us to give effect to the plain meaning of statutory enactments; we must employ rules of grammar and common usage and accord to technical terms and legislative definitions their particular meaning. See 2-4-101, 1 C.R.S. (1997).

[17] The Colorado General Assembly initially addressed ski safety in Colorado through the 1965 Tramway Act. The act’s purpose is to assist in safeguarding life, health, property, and the welfare of the state in the operation of passenger tramways.[fn3] See 25-5-701, 8 C.R.S. (1997). The act establishes a Board “to prevent unnecessary mechanical hazards” and to “assure that reasonable design and construction are used for, that accepted safety devices and sufficient personnel are provided for, and that periodic inspections and adjustments are made which are deemed essential to the safe operation of, passenger tramways.” 25-5-701, 8 C.R.S. (1997). The General Assembly has confirmed that, notwithstanding the powers and duties of the Tramway Board, “[t]he primary responsibility for design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection rests with the area operators” of passenger tramway devices. 25-5-705, 8 C.R.S. (1997) (emphasis added).

[18] The legislature has empowered the Board[fn4] with rulemaking and enforcement authority to carry out its functions. The Board is authorized, but not required, to utilize the standards adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), see 25-5-704, 8 C.R.S. (1997), and has authority to conduct investigations and inspections, to discipline ski area operators, to issue licenses, to order emergency shut downs, and to engage in other functions related to the purpose of the Tramway Act, see 25-5-704 to -716, 8 C.R.S. (1997).[fn5] The Board by regulation has adopted the ANSI 1992 standards, with some additions, revisions, and deletions. See Rule 0.1, 3 C.C.R. 718-1 at 1.

[19] Building on the construct of the Tramway Act, the General Assembly followed with the Ski Safety Act in 1979. This act supplements the Tramway Act’s focus on ski lifts, but its principal function is to define the duties of ski areas and skiers with regard to activities and features on the ski slopes. See 33-44-102, 9 C.R.S. (1997). In 1990 amendments to the Ski Safety Act, the legislature limited the liability of ski area operators for accidents on the slopes involving the “inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” See ch. 256, sec. 7, 33-44-112, 1990 Colo. Sess. Laws, 1543; see also ch. 256, sec. 1, Legislative Declaration, 1990 Colo. Sess. Laws, 1540; Graven v. Vail Assocs., 909 P.2d 514, 517-18 (Colo. 1995).

[20] Included within the inherent risks of skiing are dangers or conditions that are an “integral part of the sport of skiing,” such as weather, snow conditions, collisions with natural and man-made objects, and terrain variations. See 33-44-103(3.5), 9 C.R.S. (1997). The skier must know the range of his or her ability, ski in control, maintain a proper lookout while skiing, avoid collisions with other skiers, and not use a ski slope or trail or passenger tramway while impaired by alcohol or other controlled substances. See 33-44-109, 9 C.R.S. (1997). The statute provides that “no skier may make any claim against or recover from any ski area operator for injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” 33-44-112, 9 C.R.S. (1997). See also Graven, 909 P.2d at 518-21.

[21] For their part, ski area operators must maintain a sign system, including signs indicating the level of difficulty of the area’s slopes and trails, notices that warn of danger areas, closed trails, and ski area boundaries, and the marking of man-made structures that are not readily visible to skiers. See 33-44-107, 9 C.R.S. (1997). They must undertake safety precautions related to the operation of equipment such as snowmobiles and motorized snow-grooming vehicles on slopes and trails within ski area boundaries. See 33-44-108, 9 C.R.S. (1997).

[22] The Ski Safety Act also addresses aspects of ski lift operation through several provisions which regulate passenger conduct. Passengers must have sufficient physical dexterity to use a lift safely and are required to observe certain conduct when embarking, riding, and disembarking a ski lift. See 33-44-105, 9 C.R.S. (1997). They may not move outside designated areas, throw objects from the tramway, engage in conduct that could cause injury to others, or disobey instructions from the ski area operator. See id. On the other hand, ski area operators must maintain a sign system including specific instructions such as “Keep Ski Tips Up,” and “Unload Here.” See 33-44-106, 9 C.R.S. (1997).

[23] Any violation of the statute’s provisions applicable to skiers constitutes negligence on their part; in tandem, any violations by a ski area operator of the Ski Safety Act or the Tramway Act constitute negligence as to them. See 33-44-104, 9 C.R.S. (1997). The effect of these statutory provisions is to make violations of the Ski Safety Act and/or Tramway Act negligence per se.

C.

[24] Effect Of The Tramway Act And The Ski Safety Act On The Degree Of Care Applicable To Ski Lift Operators

[25] Of controlling significance in answering the certified questions of law is that we infer no abrogation of a common law right of action absent clear legislative intent. See Vaughan v. McMinn, 945 P.2d 404, 408 (Colo. 1997); Farmers Group, Inc. v. Williams, 805 P.2d 419, 423 (Colo. 1991). If the legislature wishes to abrogate rights that would otherwise be available under the common law, it must manifest its intent “expressly or by clear implication.” McMinn, 945 P.2d at 408.

[26] Crested Butte contends, and the federal district court determined, that the legislature has replaced the high standard we announced in Bagnoli with a standard of ordinary care. In arguing for a duty of care lesser than the highest degree, Crested Butte relies on the 1965 provision in the Tramway Act exempting ski lifts from laws of the state applicable to “common carriers.” It also argues, in the alternative, that the “legislature’s enactment of a comprehensive statutory and regulatory scheme for safety requirements at ski areas manifests the intent to preempt the field of common law liability, especially where the claim is that a particular safety device was not installed on a lift.”

[27] To the contrary, we conclude that the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act, together with the Bagnoli standard of care, provide a comprehensive Colorado framework which preserves ski lift common law negligence actions, while at the same time limiting skier suits for inherent dangers on the slopes and defining per se negligence for violation of statutory and regulatory requirements.

1.

[28] The Common Carrier Provision Of The Tramway Act [29] The Tramway Act states that Provisions in lieu of others. The provisions for regulation, registration, and licensing of passenger tramways and the area operators thereof under this part 7 shall be in lieu of all other regulations or registration, or licensing requirements, and passenger tramways shall not be construed to be common carriers within the meaning of the laws of this state.

[30] 25-5-717, 8 C.R.S. (1997) (emphasis added.)[fn6]

[31] We must read and interpret statutory language in its context. See 2-4-101, 1 C.R.S. (1997) (“Words and phrases shall be read in context.”). The phrase concerning common carriers in section 25-5-717 is an integral part of a provision dealing with regulation, registration, and licensing of passenger tramways. Its evident purpose in the context of the “meaning of the laws of this state” is to prohibit any board or agency, other than the Tramway Board, from registering, regulating, or licensing ski lifts. For example, ski lifts are not to be considered common carriers subject to Public Utilities Commission (PUC) jurisdiction. Without this provision, ski lifts arguably would have been under the very broad statutory definition of “common carriers” for regulatory purposes. See 40-1-102(3)(a)(I), 11 C.R.S. (1997).[fn7]

[32] We did not rely in Bagnoli on the notion that ski lift operators are common carriers when enunciating the applicable standard of care. Rather, we applied the Lewis factors to ski lift operators because of the degree of control they exercise over passengers, the relative powerlessness of a passenger to secure his or her own safety under the circumstances, and the consequent state of dependence and trust which a passenger must place in the lift operators. In Lewis, we said It is not important whether defendants were serving as a carrier or engaged in activities for amusement. The important factors are, the plaintiffs had surrendered themselves to the care and custody of the defendants; they had given up their freedom of movement and actions; there was nothing they could do to cause or prevent the accident. Under the circumstances of this case, the defendants had exclusive possession and control of the facilities used in the conduct of their business and they should be held to the highest degree of care.

[33] Lewis, 156 Colo. at 57, 396 P.2d at 939 (emphasis added). One of the justices vigorously dissented as to the degree of care expected, on the basis that “this is not a `carrier case.'” Id. at 72, 396 P.2d at 947 (McWilliams, C.J., dissenting).

[34] In Bagnoli, we nevertheless adhered to the basic proposition that enunciating the degree of care to be exercised depends on the danger and degree of responsibility involved. We emphasized that the duty in negligence actions “remains one of exercising due care, and due care depends upon the attendant circumstances.” 166 Colo. at 38-39, 441 P.2d at 664 (emphasis added). We held that the attendant circumstances of ski lift operation, like amusement rides, demand the highest degree of care. We pointed out that other jurisdictions had imposed on ski lift operators a common carrier status in requiring the higher duty of care, but that, in Colorado, common carrier status made no difference in this regard in light of the Lewis factors. See Bagnoli, 166 Colo. at 39-40, 441 P.2d at 664.[fn8] Thus, in Bagnoli, we held that a Colorado jury instruction need not designate a ski lift operator as a common carrier. Because of the existence of the above described rule of Lewis, supra, and the nature and purpose of our statutes pertaining to common carriers at the time of this accident, there was no need to designate the ski lift operator as a common carrier in Instruction No. 15.

[35] Id. We said that the inclusion of the “common carrier” description in the actual instruction delivered to the jury in Bagnoli was of no consequence, since the paramount purpose of Instruction No. 15 was to convey to the jury the rule of law that a chair ski lift operator must exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation of the ski lift.

[36] Id., 441 P.2d at 664-65 (emphasis added).

[37] Thus, while common carriers may be required to exercise the highest degree of care towards their passengers, it does not follow that transport device operators who are not classified as common carriers are dispensed from exercising the highest degree of care when the attendant circumstances warrant such caution.

2.

[38] Legislative Action Subsequent To Bagnoli

[39] The legislature has carefully chosen how to let stand, supplement, or limit application of the common law in the arena of ski safety; it has chosen not to alter the standard of care applicable to ski lift safety. In 1990, the General Assembly limited the liability of ski area operators for claims involving the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. However, the amendments expressly prevent ski lift operators from claiming that the limitation on a ski area’s liability applies to causes of action arising from ski lift accidents. See 33-44-103(3.5), 33-44-112, 9 C.R.S. (1997).[fn9] As further confirmation of the intent to exclude ski lift accidents from the liability limitations, the bill’s chief sponsor, Representative Scott McInnis, testified that the 1990 amendments to the Ski Safety Act would not affect common law tort liability as it related to ski lifts: “This bill does not exclude a ski area from negligence and the liability it faces with ski lifts.” House floor debate on S.B. 80, Mar. 21, 1990.

[40] Another example of the General Assembly’s careful distinctions between ski slope and ski lift accident liability is found in section 33-44-113. This provision limits the amount of damages recoverable from a ski lift operator for accidents that occur while skiing but specifically excludes damages “associated with an injury occurring to a passenger while riding on a passenger tramway.” 33-44-113, 9 C.R.S. (1997).[fn10] Thus, in both a limitation of liability provision and in a limitation of damages provision related to skiing, the General Assembly chose to write an exception preserving the liability and damages law applicable to ski lift accidents.

[41] The legislature has amended the Tramway Act eleven times since the Bagnoli decision: in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1993.[fn11] None of those amendments altered the ski lift operator liability rules or shifted to the Tramway Board the operator’s “primary responsibility for design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection.” 25-5-705, 8 C.R.S. (1997). The Ski Safety Act was passed in 1979[fn12] and substantively amended in 1990,[fn13] with cross references being made to the Tramway Act. The General Assembly did not choose to overrule Bagnoli on either of these occasions.

3.

[42] Statutory Preemption Of Common Law Causes Of Action And Standards Of Care

[43] Crested Butte further suggests that the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act together manifest the legislature’s intent to preempt the field of ski lift safety and, thus, abrogate common law negligence actions and/or the applicable standard of care. Crested Butte insists that the following provisions, which make violations of the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act negligence per se, replace common law liability except as provided therein

Negligence — civil actions. . . .

(2) A violation by a ski area operator of any requirement of this article or any rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board pursuant to section 25-5-704(1)(a), C.R.S., shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of such operator.

[44] 33-44-104(2), 9 C.R.S. (1997) (emphasis added), and, Inconsistent law or statute. Insofar as any provision of law or statute is inconsistent with the provisions of this article, this article controls.

[45] 33-44-114, 9 C.R.S. (1997).

[46] We disagree with Crested Butte’s proposed construction of these provisions. In section 33-44-104(2),[fn14] the legislature determined that any violation of the Tramway Act, or Board regulations, would constitute negligence for purposes of a tort suit based on an alleged violation. A statutory provision which defines violation of a statute or rule as negligence per se is not necessarily inconsistent with maintenance of a common law negligence action, and the creation of a statutory remedy does not bar preexisting common law rights of action, in the absence of clear legislative intent to negate the common law right. See McMinn, 945 P.2d at 408; see also Trigg v. City & County of Denver, 784 F.2d 1058, 1059-60 (10th Cir. 1986) (in ski lift accident case, both common law negligence and negligence per se Colorado jury instructions may be required, if justified by sufficient evidence). We conclude that section 33-44-104(2) demonstrates no indication that the legislature wished to bar, rather than supplement, common law actions in ski lift cases.

[47] Crested Butte contends that the Tramway Act’s provisions (1) establishing a Board to “assure that . . . accepted safety devices . . . are provided for,” see 25-5-701, 8 C.R.S. (1997), and (2) empowering the Board to “establish reasonable standards of design and operational practices,” see 25-5-709, 8 C.R.S. (1997), necessarily imply that the General Assembly intended to preempt the field of common law liability in ski lift cases. See Lunsford v. Western States Life Ins., 908 P.2d 79, 87 (Colo. 1995) (stating that “resort to common law principles is preempted regarding issues to which the . . . statute expressly applies or where there are other pertinent statutory provisions. However, if the . . . statute is inapplicable and no other applicable statutes exist, we will rely on the common law”).

[48] The primary responsibility for design and operation of a ski lift rests with the operator. The standards adopted by the Board are intended to be reasonable regulatory standards, not to comprise the operator’s sole duty in regard to passenger safety. Compliance with these standards is evidence of due care but not conclusive evidence.

[49] In our electricity cases, for example, we have explained that regulatory standards for the safe operation of a dangerous instrumentality do not preclude a finding of negligence under the common law. For example, in City of Fountain v. Gast, 904 P.2d 478, 480 (Colo. 1995), and Yampa Valley Electric v. Telecky, 862 P.2d 252, 257-58 (Colo. 1993), we held that, despite the existence of comprehensive National Electric Safety Code standards for the industry, a person may maintain a negligence action against a utility for breach of a common law duty of care. In this state, electric utilities must exercise the highest degree of care to protect the public. See Gast, 904 P.2d at 480.

[50] Evidence of a defendant’s compliance with industry standards, while relevant and admissible for determining whether the defendant breached its duty of care, is not conclusive evidence of due care. See Telecky, 862 P.2d at 257 (compliance with NESC standards is only a part of the determination that the jury was required to make); see also Gast, 904 P.2d at 480 (compliance with NESC standards does not conclusively establish that the highest degree of care was exercised, but is merely one factor to be considered in determining the highest degree of skill and care); Blueflame Gas v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579, 591 (Colo. 1984) (compliance with an administrative safety regulation by propane supplier does not conclusively establish that the highest degree of care was exercised, but is merely one circumstance to be considered).[fn15]

[51] Although the Restatement (Second) of Torts does not have the force of law, we may look to it as a summary of guiding legal principles. The Restatement (Second) of Torts 288C (1965), supports our conclusion that additional tort remedies remain available despite statutory regulation of an industry “Compliance with a legislative enactment or an administrative regulation does not prevent a finding of negligence where a reasonable man would take additional precautions.” In the comment to this section, the Restatement explains that, “Where a statute, ordinance or regulation is found to define a standard of conduct . . . the standard defined is normally a minimum standard, applicable to the ordinary situations contemplated by the legislation. This legislative or administrative minimum does not prevent a finding that a reasonable man would have taken additional precautions where the situation is such as to call for them.” Id. 288C, cmt. a.

[52] We reject Crested Butte’s argument that section 285 rather than section 288C of the Restatement should assist our reasoning in this case. Section 285 states that the determination of the standard of conduct of a reasonable person applicable to a given case may be: (a) established by a legislative enactment or administrative regulation which so provides; or (b) adopted by the court from a legislative enactment or administrative regulation which does not so provide; or (c) established by judicial decision; or (d) applied to the facts of the case by the trial judge or the jury if there is no such enactment, regulation, or decision. See Restatement (Second) of Torts 285 (1965).

[53] Crested Butte’s analysis fails to account for the logic of section 288C, which states that a standard of conduct defined by statute, ordinance, or regulation as described in section 285 is normally a “minimum standard,” and does not prevent a finding that a reasonable person would have taken additional precautions when the situation requires. Id. 288C.

[54] If Crested Butte could point to some part of the Tramway Board’s statutes or regulations which prohibits it from taking additional safety precautions, or a patent conflict preventing utilization of a particular safety device under the circumstances, its argument that Board standards preempt common law negligence actions might have merit. For example, in Jefferson County School District R-1 v. Gilbert, 725 P.2d 774, 778-79 (Colo. 1986), we held that a city met its duty of care to make streets safe because it met engineering standards prescribed by statute; the statute specifically prohibited the city from installing a traffic signal unless an intersection met certain criteria. Thus, we held that the city did not have a duty to install traffic devices where the statute specifically prohibited the city from installing them except under certain conditions. Here, although the Board required restraining devices during summer operation and not winter, its regulations did not prohibit operation with restraining devices during winter operation.

[55] Crested Butte also asserts that the Bagnoli standard, if it still applies, should be limited to ski lift negligence actions based on operational errors or defects in equipment and not to design of the lift. Although the facts in Bagnoli related to operation of the lift in the loading procedure and not the design of the lift, section 25-5-705 of the Tramway Act affirms the ski lift operator’s primary responsibility for “design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection,” without restriction to the season of operation. The General Assembly has not stated in this regard that the operator’s duty is limited to exercising ordinary care. The Lewis and Bagnoli factors are applicable to each of these components of ski lift safety, and we hold that the ski lift operator must exercise the highest degree of care in regard to each.

[56] A differential standard between operation and design could discourage lift operators from adopting safer designs. Operators would be held to Bagnoli’s higher standard when operating with new safety devices, but a lower standard when choosing to stay with existing equipment. Adoption of Crested Butte’s argument that the Tramway Act and Ski Safety Act preempt common law liability would entail no responsibility on the part of ski operators to ensure safe design, other than to comply with the Board’s regulations. This notion is contrary to the legislature’s intent in assigning the primary responsibility for design to the operators, as well as contrary to a fundamental precept of tort law — that conduct adverse to evolving safety norms should not be rewarded. See W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts 33, at 194-95 (5th ed. 1984).

III.

[57] Answers To Certified Questions

[58] The Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act do not contain express language or a clear implication to preempt common law actions or the standard of care for ski lift accident cases; rather, they evidence the opposite implication. The legislature’s intent in the Tramway Act is to “assist in safeguarding life, health, property, and the welfare of this state.” See 25-5-701, 8 C.R.S. (1997) (emphasis added). “The primary responsibility for design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection rests with the area operators of passenger tramway devices.” 25-5-705, 8 C.R.S. (1997). In the context of common law actions, our role has been to enunciate the degree of care which ski lift operators must exercise. Ordinary care is not applicable; the factors of passenger safety and operator control attendant to operation of a ski lift require the operator to exercise the highest degree of care. The legislature, despite numerous occasions in the adoption and amendment of the two acts, has not altered the applicability of the Bagnoli standard.

[59] We therefore answer the certified questions as follows: we hold that the standard of care applicable to ski lift operators in Colorado for the design, construction, maintenance, operation, and inspection of a ski lift, is the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation of the lift. Neither the Tramway Act nor the Ski Safety Act preempt or otherwise supersede this standard of care, whatever the season of operation.

[60] JUSTICE KOURLIS dissents, and CHIEF JUSTICE VOLLACK joins in the dissent.

[fn1] Of course, we do not determine whether Crested Butte breached its duty of care or any other issue remaining in the federal court litigation.

[fn2] Decided after passage of the Tramway Act based on an accident occurring before its passage, Bagnoli has been the law of Colorado for the last 30 years. The Colorado Jury Instructions include the following summary of its holding

12:13 AMUSEMENT DEVICES AND SKI LIFTS DUTY OF CARE WHERE USER LACKS FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT It is the duty of the (owner)(operator) of an (amusement device)(ski lift) to exercise the highest degree of care a reasonably careful person could exercise under the same or similar circumstances, in keeping with the practical operation of such a device, for the safety of any person using the device with the (owner’s)(operator’s) express or implied permission.

The failure to exercise such care is negligence. CJI-Civ 3d

12:13 at 98. This instruction is used in ski lift and amusement ride cases and for “those kinds of devices which, to use, the user is required to give up his or her freedom of movement and control of the situation and submit him or herself to the control of the operator.” Id. at 99. The Instruction’s “Notes on Use” state that neither the Passenger Tramway Safety Act nor the Ski Safety and Liability Act changed the applicability of the instruction to ski lifts, except that a negligence per se instruction will be used in cases involving a violation of the Ski Safety Act or regulations of the Board. See id. Although the content of a Colorado Jury Instruction is not legally definitive, its long and common usage is persuasive on the matter of being a correct summary of the law. See Wade v. Olinger Life Ins. Co., 192 Colo. 401, 409 n. 7, 560 P.2d 446, 452 n. 7 (1977). [fn3] A passenger tramway is “a device used to transport passengers uphill on skis, or in cars on tracks, or suspended in the air by the use of steel cables, chains, or belts, or by ropes, and usually supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans.” 25-5-702(4), 8 C.R.S. (1997).

[fn4] The Board is comprised of one member representing the U.S. Forest Service and six members appointed by the governor, two representing the ski industry, two representing the public at large, and two members with experience in the tramway industry, to regulate passenger tramway devices. See 25-5-703, 8 C.R.S. (1997).

[fn5] The power and duties of the tramway board were specifically enumerated and reorganized into separate sections in the 1993 amendments to the tramway act. See ch. 267, secs. 7-8, 25-5-704 to -719, 1993 Colo. Sess. Laws, 1536-44.

[fn6] Section 25-5-718 was repealed and recodified as section 25-5-717 by the 1993 amendments to the Tramway Act. See ch. 267, sec. 8, 1993 Colo. Sess. Laws, 1538 & 1543. The provisions are nearly identical, and we refer to the most recent codification.

[fn7] “Common carrier” is defined in the public utilities statute as: “Every person directly or indirectly affording a means of transportation, or any service or facility in connection therewith, within this state by motor vehicle, aircraft, or other vehicle whatever by indiscriminately accepting and carrying for compensation passengers between fixed points or over established routes or otherwise . . . .” 40-1-102(3)(a)(I), 11 C.R.S. (1997).

[fn8] Courts in other jurisdictions have addressed the issue of the duty of care owed by ski lift operators, with widely varying results. Some jurisdictions have stated that ski lifts constitute common carriers for purposes of tort liability. See Squaw Valley Ski Corp. v. Superior Court, 3 Cal.Rptr.2d 897, 900 (Cal.App. 1992) (ski lift is a common carrier for tort purposes); D’Amico v. Great American Recreation, Inc. 627 A.2d 1164, 1166 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 1992) (ski area operators are common carriers in the operation of ski lifts). But see McDaniel v. Dowell, 26 Cal. Rptr. 140 (Cal.App. 1962) (rope tow not a common carrier for tort liability purposes).

Whether or not they considered ski lifts to be common carriers, courts have differed as to the degree of care ski lift operators must exercise. Some states require the highest degree of care commensurate with a ski lift’s practical operation, see Hunt v. Sun Valley Co., 561 F.2d 744, 746 (9th Cir. 1977) (applying Idaho law); Fisher v. Mt. Mansfield Co., 283 F.2d 533, 534 (2d Cir. 1960) (applying Vermont law); D’Amico, 627 A.2d at 1166-67; Squaw Valley, 3 Cal.Rptr.2d at 899-900, and other states require only ordinary care, see Pessl v. Bridger Bowl, 524 P.2d 1101, 1107 (Mont. 1974); Bolduc v. Herbert Schneider Corp., 374 A.2d 1187 (N.H. 1977); Friedman v. State, 282 N.Y.S.2d 858, 860 (Ct. Cl. 1967).

The question of the degree of care owed by ski lift operators to passengers is grounded in the common law and statutes particular to each state. We look to Colorado law as the basis for our determination that the highest degree of care applies to ski lift operators in this state.

[fn9] Section 33-44-103(3.5) provides in pertinent part:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

[fn10] Section 33-44-113 provides:

The total amount of damages which may be recovered from a ski area operator by a skier who uses a ski area for the purpose of skiing or for the purpose of sliding downhill on snow or ice on skis, a toboggan, a sled, a tube, a ski-bob, a snowboard, or any other device and who is injured, excluding those associated with an injury occurring to a passenger while riding on a passenger tramway, shall not exceed one million dollars, present value, including any derivative claim by any other claimant, which shall not exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars, present value, and including any claim attributable to noneconomic loss or injury, as defined in sections 13-21-102.5(2) C.R.S., whether past damages, future damages, or a combination of both, which shall not exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars.

(Emphasis added.)

[fn11] See ch. 395, sec. 29, 66-25-9, 1973 Colo. Sess. Laws 1373; ch. 126, secs. 1-10, 1976 Colo. Sess. Laws 660-63; ch. 354, secs. 1-16, 1977 Colo. Sess. Laws 1288-92; ch. 433, secs. 120-122, 25-5-708 to -710, 1979 Colo. Sess. Laws 1661; ch. 315, secs. 1-7, 1983 Colo. Sess. Laws 1071-73; ch. 101, sec. 23, 25-5-717, 1985 Colo. Sess. Laws 411; ch. 193, secs. 1-10, 1986 Colo. Sess. Laws 974-78; ch. 172, sec. 83, 25-5-710, 1987 Colo. Sess. Laws 971; ch. 36, sec. 11, 25-5-710, 1988 Colo. Sess. Laws 317; ch. 301, sec. 40, 25-5-710, 1991 Colo. Sess. Laws 1917-18; ch. 267, secs. 1-11, 1993 Colo. Sess. Laws 1532-44.

[fn12] See ch. 323, secs. 1-3, 1979 Colo. Sess. Laws 1237-44.

[fn13] See ch. 256, secs. 1-11, 1990 Colo. Sess. Laws 1540-44.

[fn14] Section 33-44-104(2) was amended in 1994 to refer to section 25-5-704(1)(a) of the Tramway Act instead of section 25-5-710(1)(a) because of the 1993 amendments to the Tramway Act. See ch. 276, sec. 74, 33-44-104, 1994 Colo. Sess. Laws, 1644. Because the substance of the section is the same, we refer to the most recent codification.

[fn15] In Pizza v. Wolf Creek Ski Development Corp., 711 P.2d 671, 683 (Colo. 1985), before the 1990 amendments to the Ski Safety Act, we noted that the risks associated with skiing do not rise to the level of those associated with supplying electricity, operating amusement devices, and selling propane gas. However, in that case we were speaking to the dangers associated with skiing — such as variations in terrain, which skiers can guard against — and not the dangers related to the operation of ski lifts. See id. Rather, we stated in Bagnoli that the risks associated with operating ski lifts are much like those associated with operating amusement rides and based our conclusion regarding the applicable degree of care on the same factors we discussed in Lewis. See Bagnoli, 166 Colo. at 40, 441 P.2d at 664.

[61] JUSTICE KOURLIS dissenting

[62] Because I do not believe that the common carrier standard of care enunciated in Summit County Development Corp. v. Bagnoli, 166 Colo. 27, 33, 441 P.2d 658, 661 (1968), survives the General Assembly’s express pronouncements in the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Act (Tramway Act) and the Colorado Ski Safety and Liability Act (Ski Safety Act), I respectfully dissent.

I.

[63] The issues certified to this court by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit are: (1) what standard of care governs the duty owed by ski lift operators in Colorado to winter season lift users; and (2) does the Tramway Act and/or the Ski [Safety] Act preempt or otherwise supersede the preexisting Colorado common law standard of care governing the duty owed by ski lift operators to users of those lifts in the winter season? I would answer the second question affirmatively, and clarify that the standard of care applicable to ski lift operators is one of ordinary negligence, as provided in the two Acts.

II.

[64] The plaintiff in this case, Eric Bayer, asks Crested Butte to insure him from injury while riding a ski lift, whether or not such injury was occasioned by negligence through mechanical, design or operational failure of the ski lift. Eric Bayer became unconscious and fell from the lift he was riding at Crested Butte ski area incurring severe injury. Bayer claims that Crested Butte had a duty to exercise “the highest degree of care,” and that such level of care would have required the installation of a restraining device on the lift from which he fell. He asserts no other wrongful action or omission by Crested Butte. Bayer concedes that the majority of ski lifts in Colorado do not have restraining devices and are certified for operation without them by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board (Safety Board). He also concedes that no statute, rule or regulation requires lifts to be equipped with such devices for winter operation. The federal district court granted summary judgment to Crested Butte, ruling that the applicable standard of care was reasonable care and that Crested Butte had exercised such reasonable care in the installation of the lift. On appeal, Bayer continues to argue that under Bagnoli, Crested Butte should be held to a higher standard of care than ordinary negligence. In my view, Bagnoli has no continuing life in light of intervening legislation; and the appropriate standard of care is ordinary and reasonable care.

III.

[65] In Bagnoli, this court determined that a lift operator was a “common carrier” with respect to the plaintiff and therefore owed the plaintiff “the highest degree of care commensurate with the practical operation of the chairlift.” Id. at 33, 441 P.2d at 661.

[66] The higher standard of care imposed in Bagnoli has traditionally been reserved for inherently dangerous activities. See Federal Ins. Co. v. Public Serv. Co., 194 Colo. 107, 111-12, 570 P.2d 239, 241-42 (1977). Ultra-hazardous or abnormally dangerous activities warrant a rule of strict liability. See Western Stock Ctr., Inc. v. Sevit, Inc., 195 Colo. 372, 379, 578 P.2d 1045, 1050 (1978).

[67] The law has held common carriers to the higher standard of care, even though their activities are not necessarily inherently dangerous. The rationale for that higher standard arose out of their acceptance of an unusual responsibility to the public. See William L. Prosser, The Law of Torts 184 (3d ed. 1964). Additionally, burden of proof considerations played a role in the analysis, based upon the fact that a passenger on a mode of transport for hire is not familiar with the instrumentalities and appliances used for transportation and would be disadvantaged if required to prove the specific cause of the accident. See Denver & R.G.R. Co. v. Fotheringham, 17 Colo. App. 410, 68 P. 978 (1902).

[68] The common carrier standard of care was initially rejected by this court in Hook v. Lakeside Park Co., 142 Colo. 277, 351 P.2d 261 (1960), as applied to amusement park devices on the theory that the “presumptions or inferences available to a passenger in an action against a carrier are not available” in an amusement park setting. Hook, 142 Colo. 283, 351 P.2d at 265.

[69] The court revisited the issue in Lewis v. Buckskin Joe’s Inc., 156 Colo. 46, 396 P.2d 933 (1964), and concluded that amusement park devices should be treated as common carriers[fn1] because “the plaintiffs had surrendered themselves to the care and custody of the defendants; they had given up their freedom of movement and actions; there was nothing they could do to cause or prevent the accident. Under the circumstances of the case, the defendants had exclusive possession and control of the facilities used in the conduct of their business.” Id. at 56-57, 396 P.2d at 939. Three members of the Lewis court dissented on that point, distinguishing common carriers from recreational providers.

[70] If, indeed, a higher standard of care evolves primarily out of either an inherently dangerous activity or out of a common carrier status, clearly the court in Lewis was

relying upon the common carrier analysis, not a conclusion that amusement park devices are inherently dangerous.

[71] And thus, the court came to Bagnoli. In Bagnoli, the court noted that not all of the factors present in Lewis similarly applied to Bagnoli, but concluded nonetheless that Summit County Development Corporation was a common carrier and, as such, owed the plaintiff the highest degree of care. The court cited various other states that had similarly imposed a common carrier status on ski lift operators.

[72] The Bagnoli rationale turned on the common carrier status of the defendant. The court declared that a “ski lift facility, like other transportation facilities, and like the stagecoach amusement ride in Lewis, requires the operator to exercise the highest degree of care commensurate with its practical operation.” Bagnoli, 166 Colo. at 40, 441 P.2d at 664.

[73] However, after we decided Bagnoli, the legislative landscape changed around the nation, including in Colorado. The chronology reflects that courts initially defined ski lifts as common carriers, and thereby activated a higher standard of care. Many legislatures, like Colorado’s General Assembly, then chose to act and declared that passenger tramways are not common carriers. Following legislative pronouncements that ski lifts were not to be treated as common carriers, other states have retreated from a determination that a higher standard of care applies.

[74] For example, in Pessl v. Bridger Bowl, 524 P.2d 1101 (Mont. 1974), the Montana Supreme Court concluded that the duty of care owed by ski lift operators in Montana was one of reasonable and ordinary care because of the enactment of Montana’s Passenger Tramway Act which, in pertinent part, parallels the Tramway Act before us today.[fn2] See Pessl, 524 P.2d at 1107. See also Bolduc v. Herbert Schneider Corp., 374 A.2d 1187 (N.H. 1977)(holding same as Pessl, and recognizing that states adopting such statutes typically did so in response to court decisions which imposed a higher degree of care); D’Amico v. Great American Recreation, Inc., 627 A.2d 1164 (N.J. 1992)(applying highest degree of care because New Jersey’s ski safety act did not include language exempting operators from common carrier status); Albert v. State, 362 N.Y.S.2d 341 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. 1974)(finding that chairlift operators are not common carriers under similarly worded N.Y. statute); Friedman v. State, 282 N.Y.S.2d 858 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. 1967)(same as Albert); Donald M. Zupanec, Annotation, Liability for Injury or Death from Ski Lift, Ski Tow, or Similar Device, 95 A.L.R.3d 203 (1979). The New Hampshire Supreme Court specifically recognized in Bolduc that the legislative decision to remove passenger tramways from common carrier status was in response to court cases like Bagnoli. See Bolduc, 374 A.2d at 1189.

[75] Hence, other courts around the nation have specifically deferred to the legislative determination that passenger tramways may no longer be treated as common carriers. Bagnoli explicitly concludes that lift operators should be treated as common carriers, and such a conclusion is no longer valid. Additionally, the Lewis factors relied upon in Bagnoli cannot stand as an independent basis for the imposition of a higher standard of care unrelated to common carrier status, because they are merely an articulation of the reasons why common carriers are held to a different standard. Those factors cannot stand alone.[fn3] Hence, in my view, the legislature has removed the cornerstone of the foundation upon which Bagnoli rested. As the California Court of Appeal stated in McDaniel v. Dowell, 26 Cal.Rptr. 140, 143 (Dist. Ct. App. 1962), absent classification of a ski lift operation as a common carrier, “[t]here is no other basis for the imposition upon the defendant [] of a duty to exercise the utmost care and diligence for the safety of the plaintiff.”[fn4] IV.

[76] The accident in Bagnoli occurred on April 21, 1962, three years prior to the effective date of the Tramway Act. The court in Bagnoli thus did not apply the Tramway Act even though the actual decision was handed down in 1968, after the Act’s passage.

[77] On July 1, 1965, the following provision of the Tramway Act went into effect The provisions for regulations, registration and licensing of passenger tramways and the operators thereof under this Part 7 shall be in lieu of all other regulations or registration, or licensing requirements, and passenger tramways[fn5] shall not be construed to be common carriers within the meaning of the laws of this state.

[78] 25-5-717, 11A C.R.S. (1989)(emphasis supplied).

[79] In answering the questions before us today, the Majority observes that we infer no abrogation of a common law right of action absent clear legislative intent. Maj. op. at 12. I find just such clear legislative intent apparent in the unambiguous language of the Tramway Act. Crested Butte operates ski lifts. Ski lifts are passenger tramways, and under the Tramway Act passenger tramways “shall not be construed to be common carriers.” 25-5-717, 11A C.R.S. (1989).

[80] The legislature expressly decided that ski lifts were not to be treated as common carriers in Colorado. In addition, the legislature implicitly occupied the field by enacting pervasive and comprehensive legislation for safety requirements regarding ski lifts. See Lunsford v. Western States Life Ins., 908 P.2d 79, 87 (Colo. 1995)(noting that statutory preemption of areas of the common law may arise expressly or by clear implication).

[81] The Tramway Act is comprehensive in its scope of regulation of Colorado ski lifts In order to assist in safeguarding life, health, property and the welfare of this state, it is the policy of the State of Colorado to establish a board empowered to prevent unnecessary mechanical hazards in the operation of ski tows, lifts and tramways and to assure that reasonable design and construction are used for, that accepted safety devices and sufficient personnel are provided for, and that periodic inspections and adjustments are made which are deemed essential to the safe operations of ski tows, ski lifts and passenger tramways.

[82] 25-5-701, 11A C.R.S. (1989).[fn6]

[83] The Tramway Act further authorizes the Safety Board to “adopt reasonable rules and regulations relating to public safety in the design standards, construction, operation and maintenance of passenger tramways.” 25-5-710(a), 11A C.R.S. (1989). The Tramway Act directs the Safety Board to use general guidelines and standards adopted by the American Standards Association, Inc., see id.; and the Act makes the Safety Board responsible for establishing “reasonable standards of design and operational practices.” 25-5-710.1, 11A C.R.S. (1989).

[84] In 1979, the legislature expanded the scope of its pronouncements when it enacted the Ski Safety Act.[fn7] The express purpose of that Act was “to establish reasonable safety standards for the operation of ski areas and for skiers using them.” 33-44-102, 14 C.R.S. (1995).

[85] For purposes of the issue before the court, the Ski Safety Act achieves four results. First, it supplements the Tramway Act and further defines the relative rights and responsibilities of ski area operators and skiers. See 33-44-102. Second, it clarifies that negligent operation of a ski lift is not an “inherent risk of skiing.” Id. Third, it provides that a violation by a ski area operator of any portion of the Ski Safety Act or of any rule or regulation promulgated by the Safety Board shall constitute negligence. See 33-44-104(2). Lastly, it includes preemptive language as follows: “Insofar as any provision of law or statute is inconsistent with the provisions of this article, this article controls.” 33-44-114 (emphasis added).

[86] The cumulative effect of those provisions leaves no doubt as to the legislative intent to set forth the governing law concerning ski area liability: both with respect to operation of ski slopes and ski lifts. The Tramway Act removes ski lifts from common carrier status. The Ski Safety Act incorporates the requirements of the Tramway Act and the Safety Board’s regulations and further mandates that inconsistent provisions of the common law are abrogated.

[87] Since the Tramway Act eliminates the elevated common carrier status of ski lift operators as a basis for a higher standard of care, the applicable standard reverts to that of ordinary care. The Tramway Act delegates to the Safety Board the task of establishing reasonable standards of design for ski lifts. The Ski Safety Act warns that failure to comply with any rule or regulation promulgated by the Safety Board shall constitute negligence on the part of the operator. The standard of care owed by ski lift operators to users of those lifts in the winter season is, therefore, ordinary and reasonable care consistent with the rules and regulations of the Safety Board.[fn8] [88] Indeed, not only should this court accede to legislative mandate, but additionally the fixing of an elevated standard of care is without basis in fact or law once the common carrier status rationale is eliminated.

V.

[89] In the absence of statutory edict, the courts must develop the common law. However, the General Assembly retains the authority to repeal common law rights or duties. See 2-4-211, 1 C.R.S (1997). In determining whether a legislative enactment serves to supplement the common law, or to repeal it, the courts have rightfully proceeded with caution. However, the principle of statutory construction that statutes in derogation of the common law must be narrowly construed should never be invoked to defeat the plain and clear intent of the legislature. See Martin v. Montezuma-Cortez Sch. Dist. RE-1, 841 P.2d 237, 251-52 (Colo. 1992). Legislative intent that is clearly expressed must be given effect. See Van Waters & Rogers, Inc. v. Keelan, 840 P.2d 1070, 1076 (Colo. 1992)(finding a clear intent by the General Assembly to change the common law rule and require damages to be set off by certain non-exempt collateral source contributions); Pigford v. People, 197 Colo. 358, 360, 593 P.2d 354, 356 (1979)(noting a clear statement of legislative intent to change the common law in order to permit admissibility of certain prior offenses in criminal prosecutions for unlawful sexual behavior).

[90] When the legislature overrules a court decision that does not involve a constitutional issue, the court must comply with the legislative direction. “It is not within the purview of this court to question the legislature’s choice of policy.” City of Montrose v. Public Utils. Comm’n, 732 P.2d 1181, 1193 (Colo. 1987)(recognizing that legislature effectively overruled City of Montrose v. Public Utils. Comm’n, 197 Colo. 119, 590 P.2d 502 (1979), with respect to the means by which a utility was permitted to surcharge municipal fees).

[91] It is my view that the Majority is, indeed, declining to recognize the appropriate exercise of legislative authority and policy-making in defining the standard of care applicable to ski lift operators. Hence, I respectfully dissent.

[92] I am authorized to state that CHIEF JUSTICE VOLLACK joins in this dissent.

[fn1] At pages 15-16, the Majority includes a reference from Bagnoli, citing Lewis, to the effect that the actual common carrier status was not important. In fact, the Lewis language was merely clarifying that it was not important to distinguish between a stagecoach “prepared and maintained by the defendant for the carriage or amusement of those who pay the required fee.” Lewis, 156 Colo. at 56, 396 P.2d at 939 (emphasis in original).

[fn2] The Montana court also noted that Montana cases had rejected the analogy between a passenger of a common carrier for hire and a patron of an amusement place. See Pessl, 524 P.2d at 1106.

[fn3] There is an inference in some of the cases, including Hook, that amusement park devices are inherently dangerous and, thus, possibly deserving of a higher standard of care on that basis. This court has expressly rejected this rationale for ski area operators. See Pizza v. Wolf Creek, 711 P.2d 671, 683 (Colo. 1985)(expressly rejecting analogy comparing operating a ski area to inherently dangerous activities).

[fn4] The California court was concerned with whether a rope tow should be classified as a common carrier, and concluded that it should not. The court was not addressing the import of a statute, because at that time, California had no passenger tramway act.

[fn5] A “passenger tramway” is defined as “a device used to transport passengers uphill on skis or in cars on tracks, or suspended in the air by the use of steel cables, chains, or belts, or by ropes, and usually supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans.” 25-5-702(4), 11A C.R.S. (1989).

[fn6] I also note that emergency shutdown of a passenger tramway is justified only if the lift is shown to be an “unreasonable” hazard, 25-5-716, 11A C.R.S. (1989), lending further credence to the conclusion that the Tramway Act supplants any elevated standard of care and reestablishes an ordinary standard of reasonable care.

[fn7] In 1990, the legislature amended the Ski Safety Act to clarify the law regarding the duties and responsibilities of skiers and ski area operators and to provide additional protection for ski area operators. See Graven v. Vail Assocs., 909 P.2d 514, 517, 517 n. 3, 524 n. 4 (Colo. 1995). None of the 1990 amendments impact upon the question before us today, although they do further display the legislative intent to limit the causes of action available to skiers against ski areas.

[fn8] I do not believe that the “highest standard of care” is applicable to ski lift operators in the wake of the Tramway Act and the Ski Safety Act. Therefore, I do not reach the question of the interrelationship between compliance with the statutory and regulatory standards and that elevated standard of care. (Maj. op at 24-28). Further, I do not believe the question is before us as to whether evidence in addition to compliance with applicable standards and regulations should be adduced on the issue of negligence. In answering certified questions, the court should be brief and confine itself to the precise questions propounded. See In re Interrogatories of the U.S. District Court, 642 P.2d 496, 497 (Colo. 1982).

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Schlumbrecht-Muniz v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30484

Schlumbrecht-Muniz v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30484

Linda Schlumbrecht-Muniz, M.D., Plaintiff, v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, a Delaware Corporation d/b/a STEAMBOAT, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 14-cv-00191-MSK-NYW

United States District Court for the District of Colorado

2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30484

February 23, 2015, Decided

February 23, 2015, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Rejected by, Motion denied by Schlumbrecht-Muniz v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30447 (D. Colo., Mar. 11, 2015)

Summary judgment granted, in part, summary judgment denied, in part by Schlumbrecht-Muniz v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125899 (D. Colo., Sept. 21, 2015)

CORE TERMS: snowmobile, skiing, inherent dangers, ski, skier, parked, collision, recommendation, slope, trail, snow, ski areas, respondeat superior, terrain, Ski Safety Act, ski resort, sport, lamp, avalanche, man-made, feet, ski run, negligence per se, inherent risks, right to appeal, statutory definition, de novo review, deceleration, enlargement, exhaustive

COUNSEL: [*1] For Linda Schlumbrecht-Muniz, M.D., Plaintiff: Mark P. Martens, Martens & Associates, P.C., Denver, CO.

For Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation, a Delaware Corporation doing business as Steamboat, Defendant: Kimberly A. Viergever, Peter W. Rietz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Brian Alan Birenbach, Rietz Law Firm, LLC, Dillon, CO.

JUDGES: Nina Y. Wang, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: Nina Y. Wang

OPINION

RECOMMENDATION REGARDING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

Magistrate Judge Wang

This matter comes before the court on Defendant Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation’s (“Steamboat”) Motion to Dismiss [#14], filed on April 7, 2014. Steamboat seeks to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Dr. Linda Schlumbrecht-Muniz (“Plaintiff” or “Dr. Muniz”) on January 23, 2014. The Motion was referred to this Magistrate Judge pursuant to the Order of Reference dated February 6, 2014 [#9] and memorandum dated May 6, 2014 [#24]. After carefully considering the Motion and related briefing, the entire case file, and the applicable case law, I respectfully RECOMMEND that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Dr. Muniz filed this lawsuit asserting claims of negligence, negligence per se, and respondeat superior [*2] against Steamboat and seeking damages for injuries incurred while skiing at Steamboat Ski Resort. The court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The following is a statement of Dr. Muniz’ allegations as pled. On January 24, 2012, Dr. Muniz was skiing on a marked and open ski run known as “Bashor Bowl.” [#7 at ¶ 7]. Earlier in the day, a Steamboat employee had parked a snowmobile at the bottom of Bashor Bowl. The vehicle was not visible for 100 feet. [Id. at ¶ 9]. Dr. Muniz collided with the snowmobile and sustained personal injuries for which she now seeks compensatory damages.

Dr. Muniz filed her original Complaint on January 23, 2014, naming Steamboat and IRCE, Inc. a/k/a Intrawest Resorts, Inc (“IRCE). [#1]. She amended her Complaint on February 3, 2014 to dismiss IRCE as a defendant. [#7]. Steamboat waived service on February 5, 2014 [#10], filed the pending Motion to Dismiss on April 7, 2014 [#14], and filed a Motion to Stay Discovery on April 25, 2014. [#16]. Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss on April 28, 2014 [#17], and filed a Response to the Motion to Stay on May 5, 2014 [#19], stating she did not object to the request. Steamboat filed a Reply in support [*3] of its Motion to Dismiss on May 12, 2014. [#26]. On October 28, 2014, the court denied Steamboat’s Motion to Stay. [#36].

Steamboat filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 5, 2015. [#41]. Dr. Muniz filed her Response on January 26, 2015 [#45], and Steamboat filed its Reply on February 9, 2015. [#47]. This action was reassigned to this Magistrate Judge the same day. [#46].

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a court to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To survive such a motion, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court views factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)).

However, a plaintiff may not rely on mere labels or conclusions to carry its burden, “and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). As the Tenth Circuit explained in Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007), “the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable [*4] likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” The ultimate duty of the court is to “determine whether the complaint sufficiently alleges facts supporting all the elements necessary to establish an entitlement to relief under the legal theory proposed.” Forest Guardians v. Forsgren, 478 F.3d 1149, 1160 (10th Cir. 2007).

ANALYSIS

Steamboat argues that Dr. Muniz fails to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because, pursuant to the Colorado Ski Safety Act (“Ski Safety Act” or “Act”), C.R.S. § 33-44-101 to 114, it is immune from any claim for damages resulting from “the inherent dangers and risks of skiing,” and Plaintiff’s collision with a parked snowmobile qualifies as such. Steamboat further argues that Dr. Muniz failed to plead a violation of any section of the Act, and that her respondeat superior claim must fail as derivative of the other two Claims.

The Ski Safety Act sets forth safety standards for the operation of ski areas and for the skiers using them, and defines the rights and liabilities existing between the skier and the ski area operator. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-102. See also Doering ex el Barrett v. Copper Mountain, 259 F.3d 1202, 1212 (10th Cir. 2001).1 “Notwithstanding any judicial decision or any other law or statute to the contrary, … no skier may make any claim against or recover from any ski area operator for injury [*5] resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-112. The definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” specifically excludes “the negligence of a ski operator as set forth in section 33-44-104(2),” which provides that “a ski operator’s violation of any requirement under the Ski Safety Act that results in injury to any person constitutes negligence.” Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 33-44-104(2), -112. Accordingly, Steamboat may be liable under one of two theories: a skier may recover if her injury resulted from an occurrence not considered an inherent danger or risk of skiing; or a skier may recover if the ski operator violated a provision of the Act and that violation resulted in injury. See Kumar v. Copper Mountain, Inc., 431 Fed. Appx. 736, 737, 738 (10th Cir. 2011). A claim arising under the first instance would fall outside of the Act and be governed by common-law negligence principles. Id. (citing Graven v. Vail Assocs., 909 P.2d 514, 520 (1995), partially abrogated on other grounds by Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-112). Dr. Muniz asserts claims under both theories of liability.

1 No one contests that Steamboat is a “ski area operator” and Plaintiff is a “skier” as defined in the Act.

A. Negligence

The Ski Safety Act defines “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” to mean:

those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow [*6] conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5). Steamboat argues that the list presented in this section is not exhaustive, and should be read to include collisions with snowmobiles.

In Graven v. Vail Associates, Inc., the Colorado Supreme Court reserved the issue of whether the list in section 33-44-103(3.5) is exclusive, though indicated that “[t]he word ‘include’ [ ] ordinarily signifies extension or enlargement and is not definitionally equivalent to the word ‘mean.'” [*7] Graven, 909 P.2d at 519 n. 4. See also Colo. Common Cause v. Meyer, 758 P.2d 153, 163-64 (Colo. 1988) (en banc) (“The word ‘includes’ has been found by the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions to be a term of extension or enlargement when used in a statutory definition. The use of ‘includes’ in the statutory definition of ‘political committee,’ therefore, connotes that something else is encompassed by the definition beyond what was previously covered by the immediately preceding language.”) (citations omitted).

More recently, the Colorado Court of Appeals held in Fleury v. Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corp., that the list of inherent dangers contained in section 33-44-103(3.5) is not exhaustive. 2014 COA 13, — P.3d –, 2014 WL 554237 (Colo. App. 2014). In Fleury, the court considered whether an avalanche that had caused the death of appellant’s husband qualified as an “inherent danger or risk of skiing” even though that specific hazard is not listed in section 33-44-103(3.5). By giving effect to the plain meaning of the words and reviewing the legislative intent surrounding the Act, the court concluded that an avalanche fits into the definition of inherent danger or risk. 2014 COA 13, [WL] at *2-3. First, the court reasoned that section 33-44-103(3.5) uses the word “including,” which indicates the list “is illustrative and not, as [appellant] argues, confined to the identified dangers.” 2014 COA 13, [WL] at *2 (“Because the General [*8] Assembly typically uses “include” as a word of extension or enlargement, listing examples in a statutory definition does not restrict the term’s meaning.”). (citations omitted). Next, the court considered the Colorado General Assembly’s decision in 2004 to alter the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing. The revision changed “dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport of skiing” to “dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing,” thereby broadening the types of inherent risks covered by the Act and decreasing the liability of ski area operators. 2014 COA 13, [WL] at *4 (citing Ch. 341, sec. 1, § 33-44-103(3.5), 2004 Colo. Sess. Laws. 1393). Finally, the court determined that an avalanche, “a large mass of snow, ice, earth, rock, or other material in swift motion down a mountainside or over a precipice” fits one or more of the statutory examples of inherent dangers or risks of skiing. 2014 COA 13, [WL] at 3 (citing Kumar, 431 Fed. Appx. at 738) (resolving that cornice falls “within the section relating to snow conditions as they exist or change, or the provision covering variations in steepness or terrain.”). In concluding, the Fleury court stated, “the inclusion of an avalanche as an inherent danger or risk of skiing is consistent with [*9] the General Assembly’s intent, as evidenced by the evolution of the Act.” Id. Justice Navarro concurred in the ruling and Justice J. Jones filed a dissent.2 One month following that decision, a court in this District noted in passing that “the Act’s list of ‘inherent dangers,’ [ ] is nonexclusive.” Bazarewski v. Vail Corp., 23 F. Supp. 3d 1327, 1331 (D. Colo. 2014) (determining that resort was immune under the Act for damages resulting from injuries caused by impact of rubber tube against rubber deceleration mats because deceleration mats are an inherent part of the snow tubing activity) (emphasis in original).

2 On December 8, 2014, the Supreme Court of Colorado granted a Petition for Writ of Certiorari as to whether, for the purposes of the Ski Safety Act, “the term inherent dangers and risk of skiing, as defined in section 33-44-103(3.5), C.R.S. (2014) encompasses avalanches that occur within the bounds of a ski resort, in areas open to skiers at the time in question.” Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp., No. 14SC224, 2014 Colo. LEXIS 1074, 2014 WL 6883934 (Colo. December 8, 2014).

This court finds the reasoning of Fleury persuasive and that the list in section 33-44-103(3.5) is not exhaustive. I am also persuaded that the presence of a parked snow mobile at the end of a ski run is an inherent risk of the sport of skiing. While Steamboat cites Fleury for that court’s description of the “common understanding of [*10] a ‘danger,'” and analogizes the presence of a snowmobile to cornices, avalanches, and rubber deceleration mats for tubing [#14 at 5], I find that a parked snowmobile is not analogous to those examples because a snowmobile is not part of the on-course terrain of the sport. However, the other provisions of the Act are more instructive. For instance, as Steamboat notes, section 33-44-109(4) of the Ski Safety Act provides, in pertinent part: “Each skier shall stay clear of snow-grooming equipment, all vehicles, lift towers, signs, and any other equipment on the ski slopes and trails.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-109(4). This section demonstrates the General Assembly’s intent to hold the skier, rather than the ski operator, responsible for avoiding vehicles on the ski slopes and trails. And section 33-44-108(3) mandates that snowmobiles operating on ski slopes and trails be equipped with certain visibility-related accessories. These provisions indicate that the General Assembly expects that snowmobiles are present in ski areas — both on the slopes and trails — and pose a risk to skiers.

Similarly, this court has previously held that plaintiff’s collision with a snowmobile while skiing was included as a “risk of skiing/riding.” Robinette v. Aspen Skiing Co., LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34873, 2009 WL 1108093, *2 (D. Colo. 2009), aff’d 363 Fed. Appx. 547 (10th Cir. 2010). In Robinette, Chief Judge [*11] Krieger held that “the specific risk of colliding with a snowmobile being operated by a ski resort employee is necessarily within the ‘risks of skiing/riding,'” and cited section 33-44-108(3) for support that skier-snowmobile collisions are a known potential risk. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34873, [WL] at *3. While the court was interpreting a particular ski resort release rather than the statute, the analysis remains the same. The fact that the snowmobile was parked near the end of the ski run, rather than moving, also does not alter conclusion.

Accordingly, I find that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence that is plausible on its face, and I recommend granting Steamboat’s Motion to Dismiss as to this claim.

B. Negligence Per Se

Steamboat argues that Plaintiff’s Second Claim should be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) for failure to specify the provision of the Act that Steamboat allegedly violated. Steamboat further argues that if Plaintiff intended to claim a violation of section 33-44-107(7), that general provision is inapplicable because section 33-44-108(3) of the Act pertains specifically to snowmobiles.

Plaintiff clarifies in her Response that the negligence per se claim is for violation of section 33-44-108(3), which requires snowmobiles operated “on the ski slopes or trails of a ski area” to [*12] be equipped with “[o]ne lighted headlamp, one lighted red tail lamp, a brake system maintained in operable condition, and a fluorescent flag at least forty square inches mounted at least six feet above the bottom of the tracks.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-108(3). Plaintiff also posits that because the snowmobile was parked, Steamboat is in violation of section 33-44-107(7), which requires that man-made structures be visible from at least 100 feet away. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-107(7)). Plaintiff offers that a question exists as to whether a parked snowmobile is governed under section 33-44-108(3), requiring it to have an illuminated head lamp or trail lamp, or under section 33-44-107(7), requiring that it be visible from 100 feet.

Neither approach leads Plaintiff to her desired result. Steamboat correctly asserts that if the snowmobile is characterized as a man-made object, Plaintiff’s impact with it was an inherent danger and risk pursuant to section 33-44-103(3.5), and Steamboat is immune to liability for the resulting injuries. See Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 74 (Colo. 1998) (holding that inherent risks of skiing include “collisions with natural and man-made objects.”). If Plaintiff intends for her Claim to proceed under the theory that Steamboat violated section 33-44-108(3) by failing to equip the snowmobile with the proper lighting, she did not plead that the parked vehicle lacked the [*13] required items, and mentions only in passing in her Response that the vehicle “did not have an illuminated head lamp or trail lamp because it was not operating.” [#17 at 10]. Indeed, there is no section of the Act that requires any marking of the stationary snowmobile.

C. Respondeat Superior

Steamboat argues that Dr. Muniz’s Third Claim should be dismissed as derivative of her other Claims. An employer may be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior if damage results from the employee’s actions that were taken on behalf of the employer. Raleigh v. Performance Plumbing and Heating, 130 P.3d 1011, 1019 (Colo. 2006) (citing Grease Monkey Int’l, Inc. v. Montoya, 904 P.2d 468, 473 (Colo. 1995)). Plaintiff has alleged that the Steamboat employee was acting within the scope of her employment when she parked the snowmobile at the base of Bashor Bowl. See id. (“Under the theory of respondeat superior, the question of whether an employee is acting within the scope of the employment is a question of fact”) (citation omitted). Because I have found that a collision with a snowmobile located on a ski slope is an inherent danger or risk of skiing, Dr. Muniz’s claim for respondeat superior must also fail.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully RECOMMEND that Defendant Steamboat’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #14) be GRANTED. [*14] 3

3 Within fourteen days after service of a copy of the Recommendation, any party may serve and file written objections to the Magistrate Judge’s proposed findings and recommendations with the Clerk of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); In re Griego, 64 F.3d 580, 583 (10th Cir. 1995). A general objection that does not put the District Court on notice of the basis for the objection will not preserve the objection for de novo review. “[A] party’s objections to the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation must be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court or for appellate review.” United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known As 2121 East 30th Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996). Failure to make timely objections may bar de novo review by the District Judge of the Magistrate Judge’s proposed findings and recommendations and will result in a waiver of the right to appeal from a judgment of the district court based on the proposed findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge. See Vega v. Suthers, 195 F.3d 573, 579-80 (10th Cir. 1999) (District Court’s decision to review a Magistrate Judge’s recommendation de novo despite the lack of an objection does not preclude application of the “firm waiver rule”); International Surplus Lines Insurance Co. v. Wyoming Coal Refining Systems, Inc., 52 F.3d 901, 904 (10th Cir. 1995) (by failing to object to certain portions of [*15] the Magistrate Judge’s order, cross-claimant had waived its right to appeal those portions of the ruling); Ayala v. United States, 980 F.2d 1342, 1352 (10th Cir. 1992) (by their failure to file objections, plaintiffs waived their right to appeal the Magistrate Judge’s ruling). But see, Morales-Fernandez v. INS, 418 F.3d 1116, 1122 (10th Cir. 2005) (firm waiver rule does not apply when the interests of justice require review).

DATED: February 23, 2015

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Nina Y. Wang

United States Magistrate Judge


Colorado Supreme Court rules that an inbounds Avalanche is an inherent risk assumed by skiers based upon the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

The decision came down as generally expected, an avalanche is snow and any type of snow is an inherent risk assumed by skiers and boarders as defined by the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation, 2016 CO 41; 2016 Colo. LEXIS 532

State: Colorado, Supreme Court of Colorado

Plaintiff: Salynda E. Fleury, individually on behalf of Indyka Norris and Sage Norris, and as surviving spouse of Christopher H. Norris

Defendant: IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and wrongful death

Defendant Defenses: Colorado Skier Safety Act

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2016

The deceased went  skiing at Winter Park. While skiing he rode a lift to Trestle Trees run, an inbounds run at Winter Park. An avalanche occurred, and the skier was killed.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, (CAIC) had been issuing warnings about avalanches based on new heavy snows. Winter Park admitted knowing about the warnings and knowing that there was the possibility of unstable snow on Trestle Trees run. Winter Park also never posted warning signs about the avalanche risk or closed runs.

Side comment: What would you do if you saw a sign that said warning, increased likelihood of avalanches today?

The plaintiff sued, and the trial court dismissed the case based on the Colorado Skier Safety Act (CSSA). The appellate court in a split decision upheld the trial court ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari and heard the case.

Certiorari is granted when an appeal to an appellate court to hear a case is approved. There is no automatic right of appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court for civil cases (most of the time) so the party that wants to appeal has to file an argument why the Supreme Court should hear their appeal. If the appeal is granted, then a Writ of Certiorari is issued telling the parties to bring their case to the court. Certiorari is Latin for “to be informed of, or to be made certain in regard to.”

When a Writ of Certiorari is granted, most times the arguments to be presented to the court are defined by the court.  Here the writ was issued to:

Whether, for the purposes of the Ski Safety Act (“SSA”) of 1979, codified at sections C.R.S. 33-44-101 to -114 (2014), the term “inherent dangers and risks of skiing,” as defined in C.R.S. 33-44-103(3.5) (2014), encompasses avalanches that occur within the bounds of a ski resort, in areas open to skiers at the time in question.

Probably, because of the value of the decision to the state, skiing is a big economic driver and because of the split decision at the Colorado Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court heard the case and issued this decision.

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

The entire issue revolves around interpreting once section of the CSSA. The words or phrases the Court liked at are highlighted.

C.R.S. §§ 33-44-103. Definitions.

(3.5) “Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities. The term “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” does not include the negligence of a ski area operator as set forth in section 33-44-104 (2). Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

If an avalanche is an inherent risk as defined by the CSSA, then a skier/boarder/tele skier, etc., assumes the risk and cannot sue the ski area for any injury or claim.

Does the phrases weather conditions and snow conditions as they exist or may change encompass or the term Avalanche or can an Avalanche be defined by such phrases.

One obvious way in which a snow condition “may change” is through movement of the snow, including by wind and gravity. And at its core, an avalanche is moving snow caused by gravity. The dictionary definition of “avalanche” is “a large mass of snow, ice, earth, rock, or other material in swift motion down a mountainside or over a precipice.”

The court found that the phrases in the CSSA defined an avalanche.

At bottom, then, an avalanche is one way in which snow conditions may change. As alleged here, snow conditions started with fresh snow on unstable snowpack, and, within moments, changed to a mound of snow at the bottom of the incline. We therefore, conclude that Norris’s death is alleged to have been caused by changing snow conditions.

The decision was fairly simple for the court to reach.

Because an avalanche is, at its essence, the movement of snow, and is therefore, a way in which snow conditions may change, we hold that section 33-44-103(3.5) covers in-bounds avalanches. It follows that section 33-44-112 precludes skiers from suing operators to recover for injuries resulting from in-bounds avalanches.

There was a dissent to this opinion joined by one other judge who interpreted the issues along the arguments made by the plaintiff. An avalanche was not a snow condition but was an event. As such, it does not fall within the inherent risks of the CSSA.

The dissent was further supported by the idea that the statute was broad but the inherent risks were narrow in scope. If the legislature wanted avalanches to be included as an inherent risk, the legislature would have placed it in the statute when enacted, or anytime it has been modified since enactment.

So Now What?

Under the CSSA, an inbound movement of snow, an avalanche is an inherent risk of skiing and as such, a skier injured or killed by such snow assumes the risk of the injury.

The decision also provides some insight into how the court may interpret the risks of skiing in the future. In general, the CSSA is to be interpreted broadly. Skiing is a risky sport, and the CSSA was enacted to promote skiing and to identify, in advance the risk a skier must assume in Colorado.

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What was the purpose of three days of Denver Post making things up about Colorado Ski Resorts?

The accomplishment was to put false information about ski resorts into the media stream.

The third and final installment of the Denver Post “investigation” (which in this case means reading their own newspapers and talking to a few people) into Colorado Ski Areas turned up very little.

First let’s get back to where the newspaper made things up.

The newspaper speculated that:

Not one of those who died in the past five seasons appeared to be drunk.

That would sort of indicate the newspaper had reporters there when someone died, however, we know that was not true. So that information as taken from “…autopsy reports, resort press releases and local newspaper accounts.” Newspaper accounts are from press release’s eye-witness accounts, Autopsy reports how they died, not their Blood-Alcohol Level and very few of those are available for review by members of the media. Remember my comments in earlier responses to privacy, both victims and the victims’ families. So the statement about the fatalities being drunk is basically made up.

The next speculation is:

If those who died had anything in common, it was catching an edge or losing control just long enough to crash into a tree on the side of a trail.

Granted if I were to guess how someone hit a tree, “catching and edge” is a good guess. But it is no more than that a guess.

Back to Bad Reporting

The article comes back around to the issue of state or federal oversight. Which is a bunch of hogwash. In Colorado, there is a US Forest Service employee who is tasked with watching over the ski areas that operate on US Forest Service land under a permit. Each county in the state has a health department which checks the restaurants and other health concerns just like any other business in the county. And each county has a sheriff who has the right to enter upon the ski area property which is open to the public to investigate a crime.

As far as releasing deaths and injuries to the public.

Let’s see what associations do report injuries and fatalities:

 

Flag Football

Hockey

Softball

Little League

American Kennel Club

Lady Bass Anglers Association

Climbing Wall Association

Paintball

 

Yet you know that people playing sports get hurt. Torn ligaments in any football game, missing teeth in hockey, torn everything and road rash in softball, injuries from getting hit by a ball in little league, dog bites, drowning, etc. etc. etc. If you play in a sport you can get hurt, and you can die.

Life is a sexually transmitted disease that is always fatal.

You can sit upon the couch and watch, or you can get out there, take on the risks and do it.

Then the article starts to weave a scary message around misstatements.

This information, however, is not separated by resort, or even by county, making it impossible for a concerned consumer to compare the safety records of ski areas  in Colorado or nationally. It also keeps consumers in the dark about what measures to take to protect themselves.

Say the resorts listed every injury and every death that occurred on it. What information in that could the consumer use to protect themselves? The article listed all the ways that people on slopes die that it could find.

…resulted from neck and skull fractures, torn aortas and suffocation after falling into tree wells, as well as inbounds avalanches and one person being impaled on a tree branch.

Neck and skull fractures occur when you hit something, hard. Torn Aortas occur when you hit something, hard. Of the four things listed, trees are the culprits that are the reason for deaths.

If you want consumer protection issues, stay away from trees. How can a journalist, let alone an editor, accuse resorts of hiding facts that could keep consumers safe then later in the same article state that trees cause people to die? You hit a tree at a high rate of speed, and you die.

So if you were comparing safety records of Colorado Ski Resorts, the safest resort would be one without any trees.

What other information could you glean from accident reports? Better, how many consumers would read them anyway.

Read the article: Colorado skiers die on groomed, blue runs after hitting trees

I’m not done though; the story has a little more.

After reading the article, along with a poll the Denver Post placed on its front page on Wednesday, March 20, I was curious. The poll asked readers to vote on whether ski areas should report deaths and injuries things got interesting.

In light of a recent Denver Post series on ski safety, should ski resorts be required to publicly report skiing and snowboarding deaths and injuries?

The articles with the poll are setting ski areas up for litigation. If deaths and injuries are reported, plaintiff’s attorneys will have the opportunity to contact injured guests. So basically the series of articles is an attempt to create more litigation for plaintiff’s attorneys.

The articles continually wanted the ski areas to do something that no other sport organization does, report injuries.

Why is that of interest?

The author of the three part article Karen E. Crummy is a graduate of University of San Francisco School of Law. Is the Denver Post attempting to use its influence, knowingly or unknowingly, to create more litigation? What is the relationship between Ms. Crummy and the plaintiff’s bar?

I could be wrong, but there seems to be a clear link; clearer than many of the stretches made in the articles.

See Karen E. Crummy — The Denver Post

Me?

I was given a head’s up about the articles from two different sources; Someone in the industry and the NSAA. I was given material to use, but I used none of it. The research I’ve done you can do on your own on the net, except for my experience from working for a resort for a couple of years more than a decade ago. In fact, other than my experience, everything in my articles can be verified online.

No one is paying me to do this (unless you want to!). I’m not getting anything from doing this, other than some personal satisfaction from trying to set the record straight.

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This is becoming a pain, Denver Post confusing irony and ironic.

Now the post is complaining about releases/waivers!

Here is the link to the Denver Post Ride the Rockies Waiver. See the Denver Post wants to protect itself with a waiver: http://rec-law.us/ZWjvaU

This is the link to the Denver Post Ride the Rockies volunteer manual which requires volunteers to sign a waiver: http://rec-law.us/Yl40em

Why am I giving you these? Because the second article in the Denver Post series about Colorado Ski areas complains about the Colorado Ski Industry using waivers. How the Denver Post can condemn waivers, while it uses waivers is at the least, interesting, better irony.

Why does the ski area use waivers? It saves you money. Yes, you. If you do not want to sign a waiver, you can skip buying a season pass. If you want to save money, then the money-saving needs to go both ways. The resorts need to save money also. A waiver allows them to save money by reducing the chance of litigation and the accompanying costs.

A waiver or waiver does something else for the skiers who sign them. It lets them know in advance who is going to pay their medical bills. That may seem to be at odds, but look at it from a different perspective. You can go skiing without signing a waiver rolling the dice on getting hurt and rolling the dice on suing to pay for your medical bills.  Now you know.

I want to ski 20 times and save money. Sign a waiver and save $1500.  Don’t want to sign a waiver, pay $2000+, it’s simple math.

The article says the waiver punishes Colorado residences because they have to sign a waiver. Colorado residents get to ski for $500 at Vail, et al as many times as they want.

This article, like the first article in the series, takes the law and misses it.

Operators do not have to post warning signs of maintenance equipment going to or from a grooming project….

However, the Colorado Skier Safety Act states:

33-44-108. Ski area operators – additional duties.

(1) Any motorized snow-grooming vehicle shall be equipped with a light visible at any time the vehicle is moving on or in the vicinity of a ski slope or trail.

(2) Whenever maintenance equipment is being employed to maintain or groom any ski slope or trail while such ski slope or trail is open to the public, the ski area operator shall place or cause to be placed a conspicuous notice to that effect at or near the top of that ski slope or trail. This requirement shall not apply to maintenance equipment transiting to or from a grooming project.

(3) All snowmobiles operated on the ski slopes or trails of a ski area shall be equipped with at least the following: One lighted headlamp, one lighted red tail lamp, a brake system maintained in operable condition, and a fluorescent flag at least forty square inches mounted at least six feet above the bottom of the tracks.

The article attacks season pass waivers on many grounds. However, the article forgets that waivers are an integral and necessary part of Colorado’s biggest industry: tourism and travel. You sign a waiver to go whitewater rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, ride a horse, a zip line or go on a ropes course. Waivers allow the owner of a company to offer these activities to tourists at a price that makes them want to come to Colorado. article attacks season pass waivers on many grounds. However, the article forgets that waivers are an integral and necessary part of Colorado’s biggest industry: tourism and travel. You sign a waiver to go whitewater rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, ride a horse, a zip line or go on a ropes course. Waivers allow the owner of a company to offer these activities to tourists at a price that makes them want to come to Colorado.

Why is the Denver Post attacking the business that keeps Colorado afloat?

Read the article: Colorado ski industry enjoys protection from law, waivers

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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8 Year old boy sued in Colorado for ski collision

Most state Skier Safety Acts and several court decisions have stated that skier v. skier collisions are an inherent risk of skiing. Colorado is one of the exceptions to that rule. The Colorado Skier Safety Act specifically allows people involved in a collision to sue each other. Colorado Revised Statute § 33-44-109. Duties of skiers – penalties.

(1) Notwithstanding any provision of law or statute to the contrary, the risk of a skier/skier collision is neither an inherent risk nor a risk assumed by a skier in an action by one skier against another.

This seems to have been taken to a new level in a case over a collision January 2007 at Beaver Creek‘s Arrowhead Ski Resort. The Vail Daily is reporting in Boy, 8, sued in Beaver Creek ski collision that an eight year old boy allegedly skied into a 60 year old man causing him injuries.

The 8 year old boy claims he only tapped the elderly gentleman with his ski boots. The 60 year old claims he tore a tendon in his shoulder and suffered considerably medical expenses. The suit is in Federal District Court in Denver meaning the damages allegedly suffered are at a minimum in excess of $75,000. The boy’s father is being sued because you cannot sue a child in Colorado; you sue the parents of the child for the child’s actions.

The issue has escalated with the plaintiff requesting a gag order be imposed on the parties. The plaintiff was receiving so many nasty phone calls and hate communications he hoped it would keep the defendant from commenting and stirring people up over the suit. The plaintiff, no matter whom, good or bad, should not be receiving this type of communications. We are of course a civilized society. As long as civilized societies allow you to sue kids. (See Gag order denied in Beaver Creek collision lawsuit)

Nor are we discounting the injuries the plaintiff received.

Skier carving a turn off piste

Image via Wikipedia


The bigger problem is Colorado allows lawsuits by people for things that most states call an accident. You assume the risk of all the things that can go wrong when skiing. The Colorado Ski Act in the same section that allows people involved in a collision to sue each other prohibits the parties in a collision from suing the resort for the collision.

If the actions of a collision are so severe then the reckless party can be charged with a criminal act that should be enough of a deterrent. If you are skiing so recklessly that your actions are criminal, if you hit someone you will be charged with a criminal act. (See SkiSafety.com)

 

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