Question answered in California, what happens if an injured skier is injured again while be tobogganed down the ski slope?

If you assume the risk of skiing in California, you also assume the risk of being injured being tobogganed down the hill by a ski patroller.

Martine v. Heavenly Valley, 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 6043

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District

Plaintiff: Teresa Martine

Defendant: Heavenly Valley Limited Partnership

Plaintiff Claims: ski patrol negligently failed to maintain control of the sled, causing it to slide down the mountain and into a tree, A ski patroller operating a sled is a common courier

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

This is a first of its kind case that I have found alleging negligence against the ski area for an injury received while being transported down a ski run in a toboggan by a ski patroller.

The case also looked at whether a ski area operating a ski patrol using toboggans was a common carrier, owing “passengers” the highest degree of care.

Neither argument by the plaintiff won because she assumed the risks of skiing and after claiming an injury, the risk of being transported down the mountain by the ski patroller in a toboggan.

Facts

As the plaintiff was waiting for a ski patroller to come assist a friend she was skiing with she felt her knee slip. She then requested a toboggan ride down the mountain from the ski patrol.

While descending the mountain, the patroller claims he was hit by a snowboarder and knocked down causing the toboggan to crash. The plaintiff alleged the ski patroller was skiing too fast and lost control sending the toboggan tumbling down the mountain injuring her.

“Heavenly contends that while [Horn] was skiing down the groomed and limited pitch terrain on Lower Mombo, three snowboarders emerged from the trees, off-piste to his right. [Fn. omitted.] While the snowboarders turned to their right, Heavenly claims the last snowboarder clipped [Horn’s] right ski, causing him to fall. Based upon [Horn’s] view, as the snowboarders turned right, they did so on their toe side edge, which put their backs to him. [Horn] tried to avoid a collision with the last snowboarder, but he was unsuccessful, and when he fell the toboggan rolled over. Heavenly alleges that the rollover caused some of plaintiff’s equipment in the toboggin to hit her head.

“Plaintiff, however, contends there was no contact with any of the snowboarders, who she claims were downhill of [Horn]. Instead, plaintiff argues [Horn] lost control of the sled, and he was going too fast and fell. Plaintiff further asserts that [Horn’s] reports indicate the incident did not involve any collision, and the toboggan tumbled instead of simply rolling over. Plaintiff also contends her initial head injuries were caused by the sled tumbling out of control and hitting a tree.”

The plaintiff filed suit, one year 11 months after her injury, claiming a simple negligence claim. The ski area answered and pled numerous affirmative defenses, including the defense of assumption of the risk.

An affirmative defense is one that must be plead by the defendant, or it is lost. Affirmative defenses are listed by the courts, and their requirements are specific and known so that the parties understand exactly what is meant by the defense.

The ski area eventually filed a motion for summary judgment based on the affirmative defense of assumption of the risk. The trial court agreed and granted the defendants motion. The plaintiff appealed, and this decision is the California Court of Appeals upholding the trial court’s decision.

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

The analysis started with a review of the findings of the trial court.

The trial court found, in part, that Martine voluntarily engaged in the activity of skiing and injured her knee while doing so. The court further found that Martine voluntarily summoned the ski patrol for help and voluntarily accepted the ski patrol’s aid knowing that she and Horn risked interference from, or collisions with, other skiers or snowboarders as they descended the mountain.

The court then looked at how primary of assumption of the risk as defined under California law would apply to this case.

“As a general rule, persons have a duty to use due care to avoid injury to others, and may be held liable if their careless conduct injures another person. Thus, for example, a property owner ordinarily is required to use due care to eliminate dangerous conditions on his or her property. In the sports setting, however, conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself. Thus, although moguls on a ski run pose a risk of harm to skiers that might not exist were these configurations removed, the challenge and risks posed by the moguls are part of the sport of skiing, and a ski resort has no duty to eliminate them. In this respect, the nature of a sport is highly relevant in defining the duty of care owed by the particular defendant.”

If the injured party voluntarily agrees to participate, in the sport of skiing or in being transported down the mountain by the ski patrol, the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries.

You volunteer to ski; you volunteer to get in the toboggan and you volunteer to be skied down the hill by the patroller. You, therefore, cannot sue because of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. You knowingly assumed the risk leading to your injuries.

The plaintiff argued on appeal that a ski patroller running a toboggan is a common carrier. A common carrier is generally known as a business that transport people for a fee. Trains, subways, and airlines are examples of common carriers. A common carrier owes the highest degree of care to those who the common carrier is transporting.

Specifically, a common carrier must “do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances” to avoid injuring those that it carries.

California defines common carries by statute, Civil Code section 2168, which defines common carrier as “[e]veryone who offers to the public to carry persons, property, or messages, excepting only telegraphic messages is a common carrier of whatever he thus offers to carry.”

In California and Colorado, a ski area is a common carrier when someone is riding the ski lift. They are transporting people for hire and in the business of doing so to anyone who buys a ticket.

There is a three-part test to determine whether someone transporting someone for hire is a common carrier.

In deciding whether Heavenly is a common carrier, a court may properly consider whether (1) the defendant maintains a regular place of business for the purpose of transportation; (2) the defendant advertises its services to the general public; and (3) the defendant charges standard fees for its services.

The court did not have to determine if Heavenly was a common carrier because the plaintiff put forth no facts, no evidence that the ski area and a ski patroller with a toboggan were a common carrier. With no evidence, the plaintiff cannot make an argument supporting her claims, and the court could not make a ruling.

The court, however, still overruled the argument stating:

Further, descent from a mountain via rescue sled operated by ski patrol is distinguishable from the ski lifts discussed in Squaw Valley because unlike the lifts that indiscriminately “carry skiers at a fixed rate from the bottom to the top” of the mountain, rescue patrollers, at a patroller’s discretionary election, transport injured skiers without any apparent compensation to the bottom of the mountain.

The California Appellate Court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint.

So Now What?

You always have the option, unless you are unconscious, to refuse the toboggan ride down the mountain and get down on your own. In this case, it almost sounds like the plaintiff still could have skied down but did not.

It does not matter though because once you assume the risk of skiing you assume all the risks associated with the activity, including the risks of additional injury while being rescued.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New Wrinkle in the skiing out of bound’s odyssey. Douglas County Nevada law prohibits it, even though US Forest Service says it is not illegal.

Man skiing out of bounds, missing & SAR goes looking for him. When he shows up, he is issued a ticket for violating an out of bounds skiing law in Douglas County, Nevada.

A skier a Tahoe NV resident, ducked a rope at Heavenly Ski Resort and ski out of bounds. When he did not come back after two hours, and the resort had closed his friends called the sheriff’s office.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s office and Douglas County Search and Rescue (SAR) team started a search. Four hours later, the missing skier contacted the sheriff’s office and notified them he was OK.

Soon thereafter, the sheriff’s office met the individual and issued him a ticket for skiing out of bounds. Bail was $640.00.

Nevada has a Skier Responsibility Code, which specifically allows counties to enact their own codes if they do not conflict with the Nevada state skier responsibility code. Consequently, Douglas County has added to the responsibilities with its code, which affects Heavenly.

(How the civil requirements and prohibitions are applied from a criminal code is confusing.)

The main difference between the state statute and the county ordinance is the skiing out of bound’s section.

9.08.030 Skier duties

11. A skier, having used a ski lift or surface lift of a ski area, must no ski under a manmade barrier that is designed to prohibit a skier from entering a closed portion of the ski area or from leaving any part of the ski area. For the purpose of this section, a barrier may be designated by roping off an area. Any skier that violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor.

In this case, based on the facts from various articles, the skier probably should have been fined ducking a rope by himself and disappearing for four hours.

However, several other news stories reported the US Forest Service side of the story which says skiing on US Forest Service land is not illegal. See the article in the local paper, The Record Courier: Skiing out of bounds is not a crime. It is a fairly well written article.

The article states that three people needed rescued after exiting through ski area gates.

Every ski area concessionaire’s contract I’ve seen requires at least one gate allowing access from the ski area to US Forest Service land. Consequently, the ski area cannot say the person violated any of their rules about ducking a rope or going out of bounds because it is required.

At the same time, it is legal to be on US Forest Service land unless the US Forest Service closes the land. So far, the US Forest Service only closes land to certain types of vehicles or for the land to recover. No winter closures have ever occurred to my knowledge.

California does have a statute that allows law enforcement to close land based on Avalanche risk. However, the actual authority to close US Forest Service land vests only with the US Forest Service. Here is the California Statute:

§ 409.6.  Power of peace officers to close area after avalanche; Unauthorized entry

(a) Whenever a menace to the public health or safety is created by an avalanche, officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments, or sheriff’s offices, any officer or employee of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated a peace officer by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2, and any officer or employee of the Department of Parks and Recreation designated a peace officer by subdivision (f) of Section 830.2, may close the area where the menace exists for the duration thereof by means of ropes, markers, or guards to any and all persons not authorized by that officer to enter or remain within the closed area.

If an avalanche creates an immediate menace to the public health, the local health officer may close the area where the menace exists pursuant to the conditions which are set forth above in this section.

(b) Officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments, or sheriff’s offices, or officers of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated as peace officers by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2, may close the immediate area surrounding any emergency field command post or any other command post activated for the purpose of abating hazardous conditions created by an avalanche to any and all unauthorized persons pursuant to the conditions which are set forth in this section whether or not that field command post or other command post is located near the avalanche.

(c) Any unauthorized person who willfully and knowingly enters an area closed pursuant to subdivision (a) or (b) and who willfully remains within that area, or any unauthorized person who willfully remains within an area closed pursuant to subdivision (a) or (b), after receiving notice to evacuate or leave from a peace officer named in subdivision (a) or (b), shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. If necessary, a peace officer named in subdivision (a) or (b) may use reasonable force to remove from the closed area any unauthorized person who willfully remains within that area after receiving notice to evacuate or leave.

(d) Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized representative of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network from entering the areas closed pursuant to this section.

So if you are not in California where the land was allegedly was closed, and you duck a rope to ski US Forest Service land can you be criminally charged? Yes. However, only if a specific set of facts have occurred, and this can probably never happen.

If the ski area boundary rope is on the boundary of the concessionaire’s permit with the US Forest Service then ducking the rope is not illegal. You can legally gain access to the US Forest Service land. However, the boundary rope must be on the US Forest Service land or right on the border.

However, ski areas do not place their boundary ropes on the US Forest Service land. The boundary ropes are always offset from the boundary. If you duck a rope and enter closed ski area land, then you have committed two crimes under most state statutes.

You have ducked a rope, and you have trespassed onto closed land.

More importantly don’t be an idiot. You ski or board out of bounds, that triggers a search for your butt; I hope they do find you and fine you. The hard-working VOLUNTEER men and women of county Search and Rescue units have enough idiots to find every year. Don’t add your name to their list.

See Tahoe man cited for skiing out of bounds

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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