The statute is unclear as to the requirements that a ski area must enforce, so the patrons are at risk of an injury. Who is liable and what can a ski area do?

C.R.S. §§ 33-44-109. Duties of skiers – penalties. States in section 6:

(6) Each ski or snowboard used by a skier while skiing shall be equipped with a strap or other device capable of stopping the ski or snowboard should the ski or snowboard become unattached from the skier. This requirement shall not apply to cross country skis.

The Colorado Skier Safety Act above section C.R.S. §§ 33-44-109. Duties of skiers – penalties stated above requires skiers and snowboarders to have a retention device before skiing at a ski area.

Four of the 11 duties in section C.R.S. §§ 33-44-109 have criminal penalties if you violate those statutes.

(12) Any person who violates any of the provisions of subsection (3), (9), (10), or (11) of this section is guilty of a class 2 petty offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars.

C.R.S. §§ 33-44-109. Duties of skiers – penalties.

(3) No skier shall ski on a ski slope or trail that has been posted as “Closed” pursuant to section 33-44-107 (2) (e) and (4).

(9) No person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person’s ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any controlled substance, as defined in section 12-22-303 (7), C.R.S., or other drug or while such person is under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance, as defined in section 12-22-303 (7), C.R.S., or other drug.

(10) No skier involved in a collision with another skier or person in which an injury results shall leave the vicinity of the collision before giving his or her name and current address to an employee of the ski area operator or a member of the ski patrol, except for the purpose of securing aid for a person injured in the collision; in which event the person so leaving the scene of the collision shall give his or her name and current address as required by this subsection (10) after securing such aid.

(11) No person shall knowingly enter upon public or private lands from an adjoining ski area when such land has been closed by its owner and so posted by the owner or by the ski area operator pursuant to section 33-44-107 (6).

The criminal charges are petty offenses. However, riding a lift or skiing/boarding without a retention device does not have a criminal penalty.

The section (6), has no penalty if you fail to have a leash or brake on your board or skis.

On a side note, tickets written for violation of the law are written by law enforcement. Ski Patrollers or other ski area employees cannot write you a ticket for violating the law. They can, however, take your lift ticket or season pass.

The issue of riding without a brake or retention device is even further complicated by the manufacturers of ski and snowboard equipment. Skies come with brakes as part of the binding. Tele or backcountry equipment come with leashes. Snowboards or snowboard bindings do not come with leashes.

If you purchase a product should the product come with the required statutory safety requirements?

Snowboards fly down the mountain all the time because they get away from the snowboarders. They sit down, take off the board to work on it or rest and lean the board on one edge with the bindings down. Any hit to the board and the board is on the snow going downhill.

I once dealt with a twelve-year-old girl who walking in her ski boots and had a runaway snowboard hit her in the ski boot breaking her ankle.

The question then becomes, “If a snowboard or ski gets away from a boarder or skier and the runaway board or ski strikes someone and injures them who is liable?”

The snowboarder or skier is liable. No question there, those people with the lift ticket were required to follow the law and have a leash or retention device.

The statute requires them to have a leash or brake, and they did not. They are liable. If the boarder loses a snowboard because they did not have a leash on the snowboard, and it goes down the hill striking someone and injuring them, they are negligent per se. Negligence per se is liability for violation of a statute.

The border or skier is also liable because another section of the Colorado Skier Safety Act states that.

33-44-104. Negligence – civil actions.

(1) A violation of any requirement of this article shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of the person violating such requirement.

Most people read this section of the statute and think this is how a ski area is held liable when they violate the statute. And it is. However, the statute is written in a way that the liability is not only that of the ski area, an individual who violates the statute can be civilly liable also.

Any violation of this article which causes an injury creates liability on the part of the person who violated the statute, and that is not limited to the ski area. Since no specific “person” is named, then any person who causes injury is liable.

What about the ski area?

No ski area checks to see if everyone riding the lift or skiing has a brake or a leash. If a ski area did, they would have to put in a permanent exit from the lift line so boarders could go buy leashes (or go home because they don’t have enough money for a leash).

However, the ski area is not liable if they allow someone on the ski hill without a leash or a brake. The statute is specific on when a ski area is liable and C.R.S. §§
C.R.S. §§ 33-44-109(6) is not on the list that creates liability to the resort.

But what about the manufacturers of the snowboard bindings that are sold without leashes? Is the manufacturer liable for selling a product that does not include a statutory safety item?

Probably not, because the liability is on the individual according to the statute. However, in some states, could that liability continue up the chain and hold the snowboard manufacturer or binding manufacturer liable.

Other state ski area statutes

Seventeen states have ski area safety statutes. (See State Ski Safe Acts.) Of those seventeen states eight have some requirement for “retention devices.” All eight require skiers (and boarders) to wear retention devices. Three of the statutes place a duty on the ski area to post notices about wearing the retention devices, CN, ID and ND. Not statute creates liability for the ski area for allowing people to ski or ride without brakes or leashes.

[Emphasize added]

Connecticut

Sec. 29-211. (Formerly Sec. 19-418k). Duties of operator of passenger tramway or ski area.

In the operation of a passenger tramway or ski area, each operator shall have the obligation to perform certain duties including, but not limited to:

(2) of this section and notifying each skier that the wearing of ski retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act;

Sec. 29-213. (Formerly Sec. 19-418m). Prohibited conduct by skiers.

No skier shall:

(7) fail to wear retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis;

Idaho

§ 6-1103. Duties of ski area operators with respect to ski areas

Every ski area operator shall have the following duties with respect to their operation of a skiing area:

(7) To post notice of the requirements of this chapter concerning the use of ski retention devices. This obligation shall be the sole requirement imposed upon the ski area operator regarding the requirement for or use of ski retention devices;

§ 6-1106. Duties of skiers

No skier shall fail to wear retention straps or other devices to help prevent runaway skis.

North Carolina

§ 99C-2. Duties of ski area operators and skiers

(5) To wear retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway skis or snowboards;

North Dakota

53-09-03. DUTIES OF SKI OPERATORS WITH RESPECT TO SKI AREAS.

7. To post notice, at or near the boarding area for each aerial passenger tramway designed to transport passengers with skis attached to boots, of the requirements of this chapter concerning the use of ski retention devices. This obligation is the sole requirement imposed upon the ski area operator regarding the requirement for or use of ski retention devices.

53-09-05. DUTIES OF PASSENGERS.

Every passenger shall have the duty not to:

8. Wear skis without properly securing ski retention straps.

New York

§ 18-105. DUTIES OF SKIERS

All skiers shall have the following duties:

12. To wear retention straps or other devices to prevent runaway skis;

Oregon

30.985. Duties of skiers; effect of failure to comply.

(h)Skiers must wear retention straps or other devices to prevent runaway skis.

Virginia

§ 8.01-227.17. Duties and responsibilities of winter sports participants and certain other individuals

g. Wearing retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway equipment;

So, What Now?

If you lose a ski or board and that board hit someone or something and cause’s injury, you will be liable in eight states and probably liable in all states.

Possibly in some states, the manufacturer of the bindings who does not provide brakes or leashes (retention devices) could be liable.

Ski areas are not liable for failing to check for retention devices, and they are not liable if a ski or snowboard gets away from someone and injuries another guest.

Ski areas can stop you from skiing, riding or boarding a lift without brakes or leashes, but few if any do.

That leaves several unanswered questions.

What should the resorts do? Should they enforce the rule to require everyone to have a retention device?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Connecticut court determines that a release will not bar a negligent claim created by statute.

Statute requires ski area to mark equipment on the slope. The ski area argued the release protected them from negligence claims based on the statute, and the court disagreed.

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

Plaintiff: Alexandra Laliberte

Defendant: White Water Mountain Resorts

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Connecticut Skier Safety Act & release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2004

The plaintiff was skiing as part of a high school varsity ski team. She hit a snow making device which was inadequately identified and placed on the trail according to the plaintiff.

The defendant moved for summary judgment based on the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and a release the plaintiff had signed to participate on the ski team.

The release had been signed when the plaintiff was a minor, however, she did not rescind the release when she became an adult.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution.

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

The first argument was whether the Connecticut Skier Safety Act shielded the defendant from liability. The act requires the ski area operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow making equipment.

Sec. 29-211.  (Formerly Sec. 19-418k). Duties of operator of passenger tramway or ski area.

In the operation of a passenger tramway or ski area, each operator shall have the obligation to perform certain duties including, but not limited to: (1) Conspicuously marking all trail maintenance vehicles and furnishing the vehicles with flashing or rotating lights which shall be operated whenever the vehicles are working or moving within the skiing area; (2) conspicuously marking the entrance to each trail or slope with a symbol, adopted or approved by the National Ski Areas Association, which identifies the relative degree of difficulty of such trail or slope or warns that such trail or slope is closed; (3) ensuring that any lift tower that is located on a trail or slope is padded or otherwise protected; (4) maintaining one or more trail boards, at prominent locations within the ski area, displaying such area’s network of ski trails and slopes, designating each trail or slope in the same manner as provided in subdivision (2) of this section and notifying each skier that the wearing of ski retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; (5) in the event maintenance personnel or equipment are being employed on any trail or slope during the hours at which such trail or slope is open to the public, conspicuously posting notice thereof at the entrance to such trail or slope; (6) conspicuously marking trail or slope intersections; (7) ensuring that passenger tramways, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, are equipped with restraint devices; (8) at the entrance of a passenger tramway, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, conspicuously posting instructions regarding the proper use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway and notice that the use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; and (9) ensuring that any hydrant, snow-making equipment and pipes that are located within the borders of a designated slope, trail or area that is approved and open for skiing by the operator and regularly groomed as part of the operator’s normal maintenance activities are padded or marked by portable fencing or a similar device.

Emphasize (bold) added

The plaintiff’s argued it was not marked. The ski area argued that the snow making device was not located on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, the court held that because there was a factual dispute, this matter had to go to trial.

The next issue was whether the release stopped claims created or based upon the statute. Normally, these claims are called negligence per se claims. (See Instructional Colorado decision Negligence, Negligence Per Se and Premises Liability or Motion for Summary Judgement failed because the plaintiff’s claim was based upon a failure to follow a statute or rule creating a negligence per se defense to the release in this Pennsylvania sailing case for more on Negligence Per Se claims.) Negligence per se claims are negligence claims based on a statute or rule created to protect people. Normally, releases do not work against negligence per se claims. That wording or pleading in describing the claim was not used in this case.

The parties agreed that the release itself was valid. The issue was what the release applied to.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.”

Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The court first looked at the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and found the act was silent on the effect of a release. The court then reviewed other Connecticut cases and decisions from other states where a release was raised as a defense to a negligence claim based upon a statute. Generally, the court found “… the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Quoting from another case the court found ““parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.”

The court found two bases for invalidating releases when argued to bar claims like this.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member.

Here the court found using a release to avoid liability for a statutory duty would allow defendants to have free reign to ignore the statute.

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

The motion for summary judgment was denied and the case set for trial.

So Now What?

This result is probably the result you will find in all cases where the release is raised as a defense to a statutory duty. The only way to avoid this is to have the statute that creates the duty, include a clause that states the release is still valid.

Similar arguments are used by courts when they have determined that a statute that may have statutory duties and also has statutory protections eliminates the use of a release in full. Meaning the statute provided the protection the legislature wanted, that is all you get. Hawaii did this (Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release) and New Mexico in Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332; 2002 NMCA 60; 48, P.3d 70; 2002 N.M. App. 39; 41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25.

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Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Alexandra Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts

X07CV030083300S

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

August 2, 2004, Decided

August 2, 2004, Filed

Notice: [*1]  This decision is unreported and may be subject to further appellate review. Counsel is cautioned to make an independent determination of the status of this case.

Judges: Sferrazza, J.

Opinion By: Sferrazza

Opinion: Memorandum of Decision

The defendant, White Water Mountain Resorts, Inc., moves for summary judgment as to all counts in this action filed by the plaintiff Suzanne Bull, individually and as next friend of her daughter, Alexandra Laliberte. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the defendant, a ski area operator, negligently failed to mark a snow-making device conspicuously so as to comply with General Statutes § 29-211.

The movant contends that judgment ought to enter in its favor because General Statutes § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability and because the plaintiffs executed a valid waiver of liability. The plaintiffs argue that a genuine factual dispute exists which puts into doubt the applicability of § 29-212 and that the plaintiffs had no power to waive liability for any statutory obligation imposed by § 29-211.

Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and documentary proof submitted demonstrate that [*2] no genuine dispute as to material fact exists and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Practice Book § 17-49.

It is undisputed that on January 13, 2003, Alexandra Laliberte sustained serious injury to her left leg while engaged in ski practice, as a member of the Glastonbury High School varsity ski team, while at the defendant’s ski area. The plaintiffs’ complaint avers that this injury was caused when Laliberte struck a snow-making machine which was inadequately identified and which was positioned upon a portion of a ski trail or slope.

On November 14, 2002, the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily signed an anticipatory release of liability absolving the defendant from any claims by the plaintiffs resulting from participation in the ski team practices or events at the defendant’s ski facility, even if such “injury is caused by the negligence” of the defendant. It is uncontroverted that, if this waiver is enforceable, it would exonerate the defendant from the liability on the plaintiffs’ claims.

I

The court first addresses the movant’s contention that § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability. Section 29-212 must be examined in conjunction with [*3] § 29-211 because these related provisions “form a consistent, rational whole.” Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 269 Conn. 672, 681, 849 A.2d 813 (2004). These statutes were enacted to delineate the respective responsibilities of the skier and the ski area operator. Id., 682. Section 29-212 enumerates a nonexhaustive list of risks inherent in the sport of skiing for which ski area operators bear no responsibility if injury ensues. Id. Section 29-211, on the other hand, imposes specified duties upon ski area operators. Id., 681.

Subsection 29-211(2) obligates the operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow- making devices that are placed on a trail or slope. A review of the pleadings and documents submitted discloses that a genuine factual dispute exists as to whether the particular device which Laliberte struck was sited on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, summary judgment is unavailable on this ground.

II

The enforceability of the preinjury release poses a more difficult question.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is [*4] against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.” Fischer v. Rivest, Superior Court, New Britain J.D. Complex Litigation, dn. X05-CV00-509627, 33 Conn. L. Rptr. 119 (August 15, 2002), Aurigemma, J.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution. Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The statutes regarding skiing and ski area operations, General Statutes §§ 29-211 though 29-214 are silent as to whether waiver of the duties imposed on ski area operators are permitted or forbidden.

In Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (2003), our Supreme Court held that a preinjury waiver [*5] which omitted express reference to negligence was insufficient to absolve the ski area operator, the same defendant as in the present case, from liability for negligence. Id., 643.

The majority explicitly stated that its decision ventured no opinion regarding the viability of an anticipatory release should it include the missing language.

Id., 640 and 643, fn. 11. Despite this disclaimer, the Hyson case, supra, does provide some guidance bearing on the issue before this court because the majority reiterated the proposition that a preinjury release from liability for negligent acts “is scrutinized with particular care.” Id., 642.

The two dissenting justices in Hyson, supra, indicated that such preinjury releases are valid despite the absence of the use of a form of the word negligence expressly. Id., 649. Implicit in the dissenters’ position is that such waiver is possible as to violations of the duties imposed by § 29-211.

While a plausible argument can be made that this implication supports the movant ‘s contention, this Court is reluctant to harvest precedential value on this issue from that dissent [*6] because the precise claim of unenforceability raised in the present case was never raised in Hyson, supra.

In L’Heureux v. Hurley, 117 Conn. 347, 168 A. 8 (1933), the Supreme Court ruled that where a statute compels a landlord to illuminate a common stairwell, a tenant cannot waive that burden and could, indeed, sue the landlord for injury caused by that statutory violation. Id., 355-56. The Supreme Court determined that the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Id. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Id., 357. Of course, L’Heureux, supra, involved a tenancy and not recreational activity.

A similar case is Panaroni v. Johnson, 158 Conn. 92, 256 A.2d 246 (1969). There, another tenant was permitted to sue a landlord based on housing code violations despite a written lease containing a waiver clause. Id., 104. Again, Panaroni v. Johnson, supra, did not involve a recreational activity waiver.

A Connecticut case closer to the facts of the present one is Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, 21 Conn.Sup. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (1958). [*7] The trial court granted a demurrer to a special defense based on a written waiver signed by the injured boy’s father, which waiver purported to release a boy scout camp from liability.

The court stated that “parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.” Id., 39.

On the national level, some jurisdictions invalidate recreational activity releases if the negligent conduct contravenes public policy as embodied in statutorily imposed duties while other jurisdictions recognize the enforceability of such preinjury waivers. See 54 A.L.R.5th 513 (2004), §§ 5[a] and [b].

In McCarthy v. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, 48 N.J. 539, 226 A.2d 713 (1967), the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s invalidation of a preinjury release in a case where the plaintiff was allegedly harmed by the defendants’ failure to comply with a state regulation governing the placement of fuel lines in racing cars. That Court stated that the “prescribed safety requirements may not be contracted away, for if they could be, [*8] the salient protective purposes of the legislation would largely be nullified.” Id. 54. That opinion recognized that such anticipatory releases are enforceable when they relate to strictly private affairs, however the Court remarked that the “situation becomes an entirely different one in the eye of the law when the legislation in question is . . . a police measure obviously intended for the protection of human life; in such event public policy does not permit an individual to waive the protection which the statute is designed to afford him.” Id.

The West Virginia Supreme Court reached a similar result in Murphy v. American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991). West Virginia has a statutory scheme regarding the division of responsibility for harm resulting from the risks of whitewater rafting. That scheme immunizes commercial rafting operators from liability for risks inherent in that activity but “imposes in general terms certain statutory duties upon commercial whitewater outfitters.” Id., 317. A rafter suffered injuries when the outfitter ‘s employee attempted to use one raft to dislodge another which was hung up on some rocks. Id., 313-14. [*9] That Court concluded “when a statute imposes a standard of care, a clause in an agreement purporting to exempt a party from tort liability to a member of the protected class for failure to conform to that statutory standard is unenforceable.” Id., 318. The West Virginia Supreme Court also observed that that state’s skiing statutes were very similar to their whitewater rafting legislation. Id., 317.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member. The court finds this reasoning persuasive.

Common-law negligence is a breach of a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to another when confronting a particularized and individualized set of surrounding circumstances which may never arise again. A party is entitled to contract away the right to hold the releasee responsible for careless conduct peculiar to the releasor’s situation.

On the other hand, statutory negligence [*10] is based on deviation from a legislatively mandated course of conduct which governs a generalized set of circumstances. The statutory rule applies in every case in which those generic circumstances may exist and where the injured party falls within the class the statute was designed to protect. Coughlin v. Peters, 153 Conn. 99, 101, 214 A.2d 127 (1965). The doctrine of statutory negligence applies to create liability regardless of whether the defendant acted with reasonable prudence. Jacobs v. Swift & Co., 141 Conn. 276, 279, 105 A.2d 658 (1954).

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

Given our Supreme Court’s reluctance to afford liberal recognition to preinjury waivers and the need to prevent the undermining of statutorily defined duties, the court holds [*11] as a matter of law, that the plaintiffs’ release in this case is unenforceable to defeat the claims of a violation of § 29-211.

The motion for summary judgment is, therefore, denied.

Sferrazza, J.