Quan Vu and May Siew, Plaintiffs, v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., et. al., Defendants,
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49013
March 26, 2018, Decided
CORE TERMS: skiing, trail, edge, downhill, ski, skier, snowboarder, sport, inherent risk, slope, collision, rocks, summary judgment, drop-off, att, daughter, skied, snow, pile, foot, lift ticket, knee-jerk, genuine, resort, Skier’s Responsibility Act, matter of law, specific risk, experienced, elevation, veering
COUNSEL: [*1] For Quan VU, May Siew, Plaintiffs: D. Aaron Rihn, Mark D. Troyan, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Robert Peirce & Associates, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA USA.
For Ski Liberty Operating Corp. doing business as Liberty Mountain Resort, Defendant: Anthony W. Hinkle, Snow Time, Inc., Cipriani & Werner, P.C., Philadelphia, PA, USA.
For Snow Time, Inc., Ski Liberty Operating Corp., Counterclaim Plaintiffs: Anthony W. Hinkle, Cipriani & Werner, P.C., Philadelphia, PA USA.
For Snow Time, Inc., Ski Liberty Operating Corp., Counterclaim Defendants: Anthony W. Hinkle, Cipriani & Werner, P.C., Philadelphia, PA USA.
JUDGES: Hon. John E. Jones III, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: John E. Jones III
Plaintiffs are Quan Vu and his wife, May Siew. (“Plaintiffs”). Defendants are Ski Liberty Operating Corp. and Snow Time, Inc., operating as Liberty Mountain Resort. (“Defendants”). This action arises out of a skiing accident at Liberty Mountain that left Mr. Vu severely injured. The complaint brings one count of negligence on behalf of Mr. Vu and one count of loss of consortium on behalf of Mrs. Siew, both alleging that the accident was caused by the Defendants’ negligence in maintaining the ski slope and failing to warn Mr. Vu of [*2] the slope’s hazardous condition. (Doc. 1). Presently pending before the Court is the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (the “Motion”) (Doc. 36). The Motion has been fully briefed and is therefore ripe for our review. (Docs. 38, 42, 43). For the reasons that follow, the Motion shall be granted.
On January 23, 2015, Mr. Vu was downhill skiing with his daughter at Liberty Mountain. (Doc. 41, ¶ 24). Mr. Vu was following his daughter from behind as they skied down the Lover Heavenly trail, a blue square intermediate hill, when he had his accident. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25). Due to his injuries, Mr. Vu does not recall much detail about his accident. (Doc. 37, ¶ 11). Mr. Vu testified: “I believe there was a snowboarder involved and I — the snowboarder got — either cut me off or got awfully close and I had a knee-jerk reaction to veer because the last thing I want to do is ram into somebody. So I — my knee-jerk reaction is to veer.” (Doc. 37, att. 1, pp. 65-66). However, Mr. Vu could not recall what he saw that caused him to veer, whether he veered to the right or to the left, or whether the snowboarder was above or below him on the hill. (Id. at pp. 65-66). The last thing that Mr. Vu remembered [*3] was skiing with his daughter. (Id. at p. 66).
Mr. Vu’s daughter testified: “I saw someone get really close to him and he was trying to avoid them and it was either ramming into him, the snowboarder, or person who was trying to get really close to him, or veering off path.” (Doc. 42, att. 2, p. 8). “He — there was someone trying to kind of get really close to him. And he didn’t want to ram into him. So he — I don’t really understand — know what happened. But he tried to avoid it. And there was like a big ditch or something there. And he tried to stop and tried to avoid the person who was trying to cut him off.” (Id.). “My dad was — the snowboarder was — my dad was kind of like the ham in the middle of a sandwich. Between the end of the trail, the edge of the trail and the snowboarder.” (Id. at p. 9). “I just felt that the snowboarder was getting quite close to my dad and I didn’t want a collision to happen or the snowboarder to ram into my dad.” (Id. at p. 10).
Ultimately, whether he did so intentionally or not, Mr. Vu skied off of the edge of the trail and suffered catastrophic injuries. There was a drop-off at the edge of the ski trail of about three to four feet. (Doc. 41, ¶ 32). Below that drop-off was a large pile [*4] of rocks. (Id. at ¶ 31). Mr. Vu skied off of the edge of the trail, off of the embankment, and landed on the pile of rocks. (Doc. 37, ¶ 11).
Mr. Vu was an experienced skier at the time of his accident. He had skied for over twenty years and was capable of skiing black diamond slopes. (Id. at P 6). Mr. Vu testified that he was familiar with the Skier’s Responsibility Code and understood that he was responsible for skiing in control and in such a manner that he could stop or avoid other skiers. (Id.). Mr. Vu also testified that he understood that skiing is a dangerous sport and that he could get hurt if he skied out of control or if he fell. (Id.).
On the day of his accident, Mr. Vu’s wife purchased his Liberty Mountain Resort Lift Ticket. (Id. at ¶ 18). The back of the lift ticket reads as follows:
Acceptance of this ticket constitutes a contract. The conditions of the contract are stated on this ticket & will prevent or restrict your ability to sue Liberty Mountain Resort. If you do not agree with these conditions, then do not use the facility. Snowsports in their various forms, including the use of lifts, are dangerous sports with inherent and other risks. These risks include but are [*5] not limited to: variations in snow, steepness & terrain, ice & icy conditions, moguls, rocks, trees & other forms of forest growth or debris (above or below the surface), bare spots, lift towers, utility lines & poles, fencing or lack of fencing, snowmaking & snowgrooming equipment & component parts, on-snow vehicles & other forms of natural or man-made obstacles, and terrain features on or off designated trails as well as collisions with equipment, obstacles or other snowsport participants. Trail conditions vary constantly because of weather changes and use. All the inherent and other risks involved present the risk of permanent catastrophic injury or death. In consideration of using Liberty’s facilities, the purchaser or user of this ticket agrees to accept the risks of snowsports and understands and agrees that they are hazardous and further agrees NOT TO SUE Ski Liberty Operating Corp., its owners or employees if injured while using the facilities regardless of any negligence, including gross negligence, on the part of the resort, and/or its employees or agents. The purchaser or user of this ticket voluntarily assumes the risk of injury while participating in the sport, and agrees [*6] to report all injuries before leaving the resort . . .
(Doc. 37, Ex. D) (emphasis in original). Though Mr. Vu was uncertain if he read the language on the lift ticket on the day of his accident, he testified that he had read it at some point prior to his accident. (Doc. 37, ¶ 20). At his deposition, Mr. Vu was asked to read portions of the lift ticket and he had trouble doing so because the font was too small. (Doc. 37, att. 1, p. 70).
Mr. Vu and his wife initiated this action with the filing of a complaint on October 27, 2016. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants were negligent in the design, construction, and maintenance of the ski slope, failure to warn Mr. Vu of the dangerous condition, failure to construct a barrier to stop skiers from going over the edge into the pile of rocks, failure to inspect the scope and detect the defective condition, and failure to repair that condition. Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on January 31, 2018. (Doc. 36).
I II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party establishes “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute [*7] is “genuine” only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. See Sovereign Bank v. BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc., 533 F.3d 162, 172 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A court should view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom, and should not evaluate credibility or weigh the evidence. See Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764, 772 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)).
Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, and upon satisfaction of that burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings, pointing to particular facts that evidence a genuine dispute for trial. See id. at 773 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). In advancing their positions, the parties must support their factual assertions by citing to specific parts of the record or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).
A court should not grant summary judgment when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. See Reedy v. Evanson, 615 F.3d 197, 210 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982)). Still, “the [*8] mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Layshock ex rel. Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist., 650 F.3d 205, 211 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Defendants move for summary judgment on two legal bases. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ claims are barred as a matter of law because Mr. Vu’s injuries were caused by an inherent risk of skiing. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the exculpatory release language contained on the Liberty Mountain lift ticket. Because we find that Mr. Vu’s injuries arose out of risks inherent to the sport of downhill skiing, we hold that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law without even considering the exculpatory release language of the lift ticket.
The material facts surrounding Mr. Vu’s accident are not in dispute. Though Mr. Vu and his daughter are unclear on the specifics, it is undisputed that Mr. Vu ended up skiing off of the trail, over a drop-off, and into a pile of rocks. (Doc. 37, ¶ 11). Mr. Vu testified that a snowboarder was getting too close to him and his “knee-jerk” reaction was to veer to avoid a collision, causing him [*9] to ski off of the trail and over the embankment. (Doc. 37, att. 1, pp. 65-66). Mr. Vu’s daughter also testified that her father’s accident occurred when he tried to avoid a collision with a snowboarder. (Doc. 42, att. 2, p. 8). While Defendants argumentatively refer to this person as the “phantom snowboarder” and question the credibility of the testimony, for purposes of this Motion we can take Plaintiffs’ facts as true and assume that Mr. Vu skied off of the trail, either intentionally or as a result of a knee-jerk reaction, to avoid colliding with a snowboarder. Even so, summary judgment must be granted in favor of the Defendants because Mr. Vu’s accident occurred as a result of inherent risks of downhill skiing.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly expressly preserved the doctrine of assumption of the risk as a defense in downhill skiing cases in the Skier’s Responsibility Act, recognizing that “there are inherent risks in the sport of downhill skiing.” 42 Pa. C.S. § 7102(c). As the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania explained, “[t]he assumption of the risk defense, as applied to sports and places of amusement, has also been described as a ‘no-duty’ rule, i.e., as the principle that an owner or operator of a [*10] place of amusement has no duty to protect the user from any hazards inherent in the activity.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 2 A.3d 1174, 1186 (2010) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. C, 2). “Where there is no duty, there can be no negligence, and thus when inherent risks are involved, negligence principles are irrelevant–the Comparative Negligence Act is inapplicable–and there can be no recovery based on allegations of negligence.” Id.
In Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania established a two-part test for courts to use to determine whether a plaintiff’s claims are barred by the no duty rule of the Skier’s Responsibility Act. 762 A.2d 339, 343 (2000). “First, this Court must determine whether [the plaintiff] was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of her injury.” Id. at 344. “If that answer is affirmative, we must then determine whether the risk” of the circumstance that caused the plaintiff’s injury “is one of the ‘inherent risks’ of downhill skiing.” Id. If so, then summary judgment must be awarded against the plaintiff as a matter of law. Id. In the case at-bar, there can be no dispute that Mr. Vu was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of his accident. The salient question, therefore, becomes whether veering off-trail and over a drop-off into a pile [*11] of rocks to avoid a collision with a snowboarder are inherent risks of downhill skiing. If those risks are inherent to skiing, then Defendants had no duty to protect Mr. Vu. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1186. If those risks are not inherent, traditional principles of negligence apply and we must determine what duty the Defendants owed Mr. Vu, whether the Defendants breached that duty, and whether the breach caused Mr. Vu’s injuries.
We begin with a discussion of what it means for a risk to be “inherent.” The Hughes court explained that “inherent” risks are those that are “common, frequent, and expected” in downhill skiing. Id. In interpreting risks, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has instructed that “the clear legislative intent to preserve the assumption of the risk doctrine in this particular area, as well as the broad wording of the Act itself, dictates a practical and logical interpretation of what risks are inherent to the sport.” Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1187-88. “Accordingly, courts have rejected attempts by plaintiffs to define the injury producing risks in very a specific and narrow manner.” Cole v. Camelback Mountain Ski Resort, 2017 WL 4621786, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 16, 2017) (Mariani, J.). For example, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Chepkevich rejected the plaintiff’s argument that she did not assume the “specific [*12] risk” involved, looking instead to the “general risk” that gave rise to the accident. 2 A.3d at 1188. A number of courts have addressed the scope of the Skier’s Responsibility Act and have concluded that some of the inherent risks of downhill skiing include: lack of netting, improper course plotting, or soft snow1; skiing off trail and striking a tree2; collisions with unpadded snow equipment poles3; striking a fence on the edge of the trail4; and collisions with other skiers or snowboarders.5
1 Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, L.P., 550 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2008).
3 Smith v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 716 F.2d 1002 (3d Cir. 1983).
4 Cole, 2017 WL 4621786, at *5.
5 Hughes, 762 A.2d 339.
Before addressing the risks that Mr. Vu encountered, we must address Plaintiffs’ initial argument that the assumption of the risk doctrine is inapplicable. Plaintiffs argue that while Mr. Vu “was generally aware of the dangers of downhill skiing,” he was not aware “of the specific hazard of being ejected from the ski trail due to a steep 3 to 4 foot drop-off on that particular slope’s trail edge.” (Doc. 42, p. 8) (emphasis in original). Because there is no evidence that Mr. Vu had subjective awareness of these risks, Plaintiffs argue, the doctrine of assumption of the risk cannot apply. (Id. at pp. 9-13). For support of this argument, Plaintiffs cite several cases that are materially distinct from the case at-bar. First, Plaintiffs [*13] quote Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., “[i]t is not enough that the plaintiff was generally aware that the activity in which he was engaged had accompanying risks.” 986 F. Supp. 2d 555, 563 (M.D. Pa. 2013). Importantly, the court made this statement when analyzing the doctrine of voluntary assumption of the risk after determining that the Skier’s Responsibility Act was not applicable because the plaintiff was not engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of the accident. Id. at 561. The instruction of this quote is inapplicable to our consideration of the no duty doctrine of assumption of the risk.
Next, Plaintiffs rely heavily on Bolyard v. Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, Inc., 2012 WL 629391(M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2012) (Caputo, J.). In Bolyard, the plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence after sustaining injuries while snow tubing on the defendant’s property. Id. at *1. The court recognized that while the plaintiff had “general knowledge” of the dangers of snow tubing on the hill, she did not assume the risk because “there is no evidence in the record that she had any knowledge of the specific hazards of that particular slope.” Id. at *6. Plaintiffs argue that “[s]imilar to the patron in Bolyard,” Mr. Vu was only generally aware of the risks he could suffer while skiing and thus assumption of the risk is inapplicable. (Doc. [*14] 42, p. 8). We disagree.
Notably, the slope in Bolyard was an old slope that was not currently in operation. 2012 WL 629391, at *1. The court used principles of negligence as applicable to landowners and licensees to determine the duty owed to the plaintiff and, consequently, considered the doctrine of voluntary assumption of the risk as a defense. Id. at **3-6. Analyzing the present action under the no duty rule, we do not consider the defense of voluntary assumption of the risk; instead, we must determine whether Mr. Vu’s injuries arose out of an inherent risk of the sport of skiing such that the Defendants had no duty at all. Pursuant to Hughes and the Skier’s Responsibility Act, there is no duty to protect a skier from the inherent risks of skiing and therefore, “when inherent risks are involved, negligence principles are irrelevant.” Id.
Finally, Plaintiffs cite Perez v. Great Wolf Lodge of the Poconos LLC,6
Staub v. Toy Factory, Inc.,7
Jones v. Three Rivers Mgmt. Corp,8 and Telega v. Sec. Bureau, Inc.9 in support of their position that assumption of the risk does not apply because Mr. Vu did not appreciate the specific risks that caused his accident. To start, none of these cases address the Skier’s Responsibility [*15] Act. These cases discuss appreciation of specific risk only after determining that the no duty rule was inapplicable because the risk encountered was not inherent. Again, we reiterate that “[n]egligence principles are irrelevant where the ‘no duty’ rule applies.” Lin v. Spring Mountain Adventures, Inc., 2010 WL 5257648, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2010). Whether the no duty rule applies turns on whether Mr. Vu’s particular injuries arose out of risks inherent in the sport of skiing — an issue that is not dependent on a plaintiff’s subjective awareness of those specific risks.
6 200 F. Supp. 3d 471, 478 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (Mariani, J.).
7 749 A.2d 522, (Pa. Super. 2000).
8 483 Pa. 75, 85, 394 A.2d 546, 551 (1978).
9 719 A.2d 372, 376 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998).
We now turn to the risks involved in Mr. Vu’s accident. The facts reveal two circumstances that gave rise to Mr. Vu’s injuries: (1) veering to avoid a collision with a snowboarder; and (2) skiing over the drop-off at the edge of the trail and into a pile of rocks. If these risks are inherent to the sport of downhill skiing, Plaintiffs’ claims cannot stand.
We can easily conclude that the first risk is inherent and gives rise to no duty on behalf of Defendants. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has specifically determined that the risk of collision with another person on the slope is inherent to the sport of downhill skiing: “the risk of colliding with another skier is one of the common, frequent and expected [*16] risks ‘inherent’ in downhill skiing. Indeed, other skiers are as much a part of the risk in downhill skiing, if not more so, than the snow and ice, elevation, contour, speed and weather conditions.” Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344. Likely in recognition of the clear case law, Plaintiffs do not argue in their brief in opposition to the Motion that avoiding a collision with a snowboarder is a risk that would give rise to a duty on behalf of Defendants. To the extent that Plaintiffs’ claims of negligence are premised on Mr. Vu’s avoidance of a collision with the snowboarder, those claims must fail.
Next, we consider whether skiing over the edge of the trail and encountering a three to four foot drop-off into a pile of rocks is an inherent risk of downhill skiing. Plaintiffs frame this risk as the primary cause of Mr. Vu’s injuries.10 “Simply put, the risk of ejectment from a ski trail due to a 3 to 4 foot drop off and striking one’s head on rocks and/or boulders . . . is not an inherent, frequent, common, and expected risk of skiing.” (Doc. 42, p. 11). All parties recognize that the drop-off was at the edge of the trail rather than a ditch or hole in the slope itself. Though Plaintiffs stress that Mr. Vu did not “willingly [*17] decide to ski off trail,” the distinction is of no consequence. Plaintiffs describe the incident in terms of Mr. Vu being “ejected” from the trail due to the embankment, but it is illogical to argue that the existence of the drop-off itself would cause a skier to go over it. Whether Mr. Vu did so intentionally, accidentally, or as a means of avoiding a collision, the incontrovertible fact is that Mr. Vu did, ultimately, ski off of the three to four foot edge of the trail.
10 “. . . the specific hazard of being ejected from the ski trail due to a steep 3 to 4 foot drop-off on that particular slope’s trail edge.” (Doc. 42, p. 8); “Even if Defendant could establish that having a 3 to 4 foot trail edge drop presents a danger inherent to the sport of skiing . . .” (Id. at p. 9); “. . . he was ejected from the trail when attempting to avoid a collision and was confronted with a 3 to 4 foot drop in elevation from the ski trail.” (Id. at p. 11).
We hold that the risk of skiing off trail and suffering from the change of elevation between the trail and surrounding terrain is an inherent risk of downhill skiing. Mr. Vu was an experienced skier who was well aware of the risks of skiing off the designated slope; he testified repeatedly that he “would never ski off-trail.” (Doc. 41, att. 1, p. 43). He had previously skied at Liberty Mountain on multiple occasions and could not remember ever complaining about the trail or trail markings. (Id. at pp. 35-36). Additionally, Mr. Vu’s daughter testified that she did not have any difficulty discerning the edge of the slope where her father went off trail the evening of the accident. (Doc. 41, att. 2, p. 14). It would be irrational for [*18] any court to hold that skiing off trail and encountering dangerous terrain is not an inherent risk of the sport of downhill skiing — ski slopes are marked and maintained in appreciation of this risk, and beginner and experienced skiers alike know to stay within the trail limits to avoid injury. Mr. Vu himself testified that he understood that he could run into trees, rocks, boulders, or snowmaking equipment if he skied off trail. (Doc. 37, att. 1, p. 71).
We struggled to find case law on point to support our holding because we believe it to be such a common sense and logical conclusion that does not require in-depth analysis. One case from the New York appellate court, however, was particularly analogous. In Atwell v. State, the plaintiff was skiing near the edge of the trail when he observed a “floundering” skier in his path. 645 N.Y.S.2d 658, 659 (1996). Plaintiff “instinctively reacted and turned without thinking” to avoid a collision and ended up skiing off trail and into a tree. Id. The court easily found that plaintiff’s injuries were due to inherent risks of skiing. Id. at 650. “[F]rom claimant’s own description of the accident, there can be no dispute that everything he encountered, including the skier he turned [*19] to avoid hitting, the berm at the edge of the trail referred to by claimant’s expert and the tree with which he collided, are all statutorily recognized as inherent dangers of skiing.” The court noted that “[c]laimant chose to ski near the edge of the trail and there is nothing in the record to indicate that the location of the edge of the trail was not readily observable to him.” Id. Similarly here, Mr. Vu was an experienced skier who chose to ski near the edge of the slope. He had a knee-jerk reaction to avoid a skier, and ended up veering off of the trail and suffering from the elevation change and his collision with rocks. Not only is there a lack of any evidence that the edge of the trail was difficult to discern, but Mr. Vu’s daughter testified at length about how her father was close to the edge of the trail and specifically stated that she could observe the edge of the slope without difficulty. (Doc. 41, att. 2, p. 14).
We agree with the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, which simply held: “Even the most generous reading of the plaintiff’s pleadings reveals the chief cause of his injuries to be an unenumerated, yet quintessential risk of skiing: that a skier might lose control [*20] and ski off the trail. By participating in the sport of skiing, a skier assumes this inherent risk and may not recover against a ski area operator for resulting injuries.” Nutbrown v. Mount Cranmore, Inc., 140 N.H. 675, 684, 671 A.2d 548, 553 (1996).
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion shall be granted. A separate order shall issue in accordance with this memorandum.
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 36). In conformity with the Memorandum issued on today’s date, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Doc. 36) is GRANTED.
2. The Clerk of the Court SHALL CLOSE the file on this case.
/s/ John E. Jones III
John E. Jones III
United States District Judge
Colorado Supreme Court rules that an inbounds Avalanche is an inherent risk assumed by skiers based upon the Colorado Skier Safety Act.Posted: June 13, 2016
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.
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
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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Michigan decision rules skier who fell into half pipe after landing a jump could not recover based on 2 different sections of the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.Posted: March 21, 2016
Language of the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act used to stop plaintiff’s claims two different ways.
State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan
Plaintiff: Marvin Marshall and Christine Marshall
Defendant: v Boyne USA, Inc.,
Plaintiff Claims: Plaintiffs filed the instant action, alleging that defendant was negligent in failing to adequately mark the boundaries of the half pipe.
Defendant Defenses: plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket.
Holding: for the defendant
Plaintiff was skiing with a friend. In the morning, they had skied through the terrain park but had not skied the half pipe. In the afternoon, they went back to the terrain park and skied several jumps again. Plaintiff also noticed the warning sign at the entrance of the terrain park.
The half pipe in this case appears to be a trough lower than the height of the ski slope based upon the description in the decision. As the plaintiff landed a jump, he allegedly slid to a stop and then fell into the half pipe suffering injuries.
The plaintiff and his spouse sued the resort. The resort filed a motion for summary disposition (similar to a motion for summary judgment) with the court based on:
…plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket.
That motion was denied, and the defendants appealed the denial to the Michigan Appellate Court.
Analysis: making sense of the law based upon these facts.
The court firs looked at the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act. The court found the claims of the plaintiff were barred by the act. Under the Michigan act, a skier assumes the risks of the sport that are necessary or not obvious.
We agree with defendant that SASA bars plaintiffs’ claim. Under SASA, a skier assumes the risk for those dangers that inhere in the sport of skiing unless those dangers are unnecessary or not obvious. Among the risks assumed are “variations in terrain.” MCL 408.342(2).
Because the actions of the plaintiff were covered under the act, the court then looked to see if the actions of the defendant ski area were in violation of any duty imposed under the act. The court did not find any violations of the act.
Moreover, defendant did not breach a duty imposed under the act. MCL 408.326a imposes a duty on the ski resort to mark certain hazards involving equipment and fixtures, which is not relevant here, as well as a duty to place a sign at the top of a run, slope or trail with certain information regarding the difficulty of that run, slope or trail. There is no dispute that defendant complied with this requirement.
The plaintiff argued that failing to mark the half pipe breached a duty to the plaintiff. However, the court found the plaintiff accepted that risk of an unmarked half pipe when he chose to ski into the terrain park and passed the warning sign.
By choosing to ski in the terrain park, which was marked with signage as required by the SASA, and which contained the half pipe that plaintiff saw earlier that day, plaintiff is held to have accepted the danger as a matter of law.
The defendant raised two additional arguments in its defense. The first was a release signed by the plaintiff when he rented his ski equipment and the “release” on the back of his lift ticket. Because the statute barred his claims and the lawsuit would be dismissed, the court did not look into either of those defenses.
The court reversed the trial court decision.
There was also a dissent in the case. The dissent agreed with the majority that the case should be reversed by based its decision to reverse on other grounds.
The dissent found the terrain park and the half pipe were necessary installations in a terrain park. However, the dissent agreed with the plaintiff’s that the half pipe was not obvious, which is what the dissent believes persuaded the trial court to deny the defendant’s motion.
However, because the plaintiff to actual knowledge of the half pipe that he observed earlier in the day while skiing he could not claim it was a hidden danger.
The dissent also felt the plaintiff should lose because the plaintiff failed to maintain reasonable control of his course and speed at all times as required by the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.
I would conclude that the obligation to reasonably control one’s course includes the expectation that a plaintiff will avoid known hazards. Here, plaintiff’s failure to reasonably control his course of travel after executing a jump resulted in him coming up to and falling into the half pipe that he admittedly knew was located in that area of the terrain pipe. For that reason, I would reverse and remand.
The case was sent back to the trial court to be dismissed.
So Now What?
It’s nice when a plan comes together, and a statute is written so the court’s interpretation of the statute proceeds along the same lines as the writers of the statute intended.
The Michigan Ski Area Safety Act is a very effective act, almost as encompassing as Colorado’s. The act was written to make sure that injured skiers could only sue if the ski area actually did something to injure the plaintiffs.
The facts in this case also do not lead you to believe the plaintiff stretched the truth. His actions in skiing across the mountain to hit a jump which sent him further across the mountain diagonally were not super intelligent. However, did not result in any injury except his own.
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Marvin Marshall and Christine Marshall, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v Boyne USA, Inc., Defendant-Appellant.
COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN
2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928
May 15, 2012, Decided
NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Leave to appeal denied by Marshall v. Boyne United States, Inc., 2012 Mich. LEXIS 2153 (Mich., Dec. 5, 2012)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Charlevoix Circuit Court. LC No. 10-091822-NF.
CORE TERMS: half pipe, terrain, skiing, ski, jump, skied, hit, inhere, hazard, trail, sport, downhill, feet, Safety Act SASA, ski resort, skier, slope, top, morning, timing, reversing, booth, edge
JUDGES: Before: HOEKSTRA, P.J., and SAWYER and SAAD, JJ. HOEKSTRA, P.J., (concurring).
Defendant appeals by leave granted from the circuit court’s order denying defendant’s motion for summary disposition. We reverse and remand.
In 2009, plaintiff Marvin Marshall was skiing at defendant’s ski resort at Boyne Mountain in Charlevoix County with a friend, Randy. They skied several trails that morning, and also skied in the terrain park. Plaintiff was familiar with and had skied in terrain parks, which he described as having “jumps and different obstacles[.]” Plaintiff saw a warning sign at the entrance to the terrain park, but he did not read it.
The terrain park contained a half pipe that was about twenty feet deep. A half pipe is a ski attraction created by a trench in the snow that extends downhill. Skiers ski inside of the half pipe. On the morning of February 5, plaintiff saw the half pipe in the terrain park, but he did not ski into it. Plaintiff skied in an area just to the right of the half pipe.
After lunch, plaintiff and his friend went into the terrain park for a second time. They entered the terrain park from the left side this time. [*2] Plaintiff skied down the terrain park and hit the edges of a series of jumps. When plaintiff was halfway down the hill, Randy yelled to him and plaintiff stopped. Randy said that there was a good jump to their right that would be “good to hit.” Randy went first, and plaintiff followed. Plaintiff proceeded laterally across the hill (to the right, if one is facing downhill). Plaintiff “came almost straight across because there was enough of an incline . . . [he] didn’t have to come downhill much.”
Plaintiff successfully navigated the jump, which caused him to go up into the air about 12 to 15 feet. He landed and came to a stop by turning quickly to the right and power-sliding to a stop. As he looked around for Randy, plaintiff felt his feet go over the edge of the half pipe. He slid down the side a little bit, and then hit the bottom. Plaintiff shattered his left calcaneus (heel) and the top of his tibia, and broke his hip and right arm. He also fractured his left eye socket where his pole hit his head when he fell.
Plaintiffs filed the instant action, alleging that defendant was negligent in failing to adequately mark the boundaries of the half pipe. Defendant moved for summary disposition, [*3] arguing that plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that there remained issues of fact. Thereafter, we granted defendant’s motion for leave to appeal. We review the trial court’s decision de novo. Anderson v Pine Knob Ski Resort, Inc, 469 Mich 20, 23; 664 NW2d 756 (2003).
We agree with defendant that SASA bars plaintiffs’ claim. Under SASA, a skier assumes the risk for those dangers that inhere in the sport of skiing unless those dangers are unnecessary or not obvious. Anderson, 469 Mich at 26. Among the risks assumed are “variations in terrain.” MCL 408.342(2). Moreover, defendant did not breach a duty imposed under the act. MCL 408.326a imposes a duty on the ski resort to mark certain hazards involving equipment and fixtures, which is not relevant here, as well as a duty to place a sign at the top of a run, slope or trail with certain information regarding the difficulty of that run, slope or trail. There is no dispute that [*4] defendant complied with this requirement. Rather, plaintiffs argue that defendant breached a duty not imposed by the statute: to mark the half pipe itself. But Anderson makes clear that when SASA resolves a matter, common-law principles are no longer a consideration. Anderson, 469 Mich at 26-27. By choosing to ski in the terrain park, which was marked with signage as required by the SASA, and which contained the half pipe that plaintiff saw earlier that day, plaintiff is held to have accepted the danger as a matter of law. Anderson, 469 Mich at 25-26.
Accordingly, defendant was entitled to summary disposition by application of SASA. In light of this conclusion, we need not consider whether defendant was also entitled to summary disposition under the liability waivers.
Reversed and remanded to the trial court with instructions to enter an order of summary disposition in defendant’s favor. We do not retain jurisdiction. Defendant may tax costs.
/s/ David H. Sawyer
/s/ Henry William Saad
CONCUR BY: HOEKSTRA
Hoekstra, P.J., (concurring).
Although I join with the majority in reversing, I write separately because my reason for reversing differs from that of the majority.
In Anderson v Pine Knob Ski Resort, Inc, 469 Mich 20, 26; 664 NW2d 756 (2003), [*5] the Supreme Court concluded that if a hazard inheres in the sport of skiing, it is covered by the Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., unless it is unnecessary or not obvious.
Here, it is undisputed that the half pipe, like the timing booth in Anderson, inheres to the sport of skiing and is a necessary installation in a terrain park. But unlike the timing booth in Anderson, plaintiff, in my opinion, makes an arguable claim that the half pipe was not obvious to persons skiing cross-hill. It appears that this argument persuaded the trial court to deny defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
But even assuming a fact question exists regarding whether the half pipe was not obvious, plaintiff admitted to actual knowledge of the location of the half pipe from having observed it earlier that same day while skiing. When skiing, a plaintiff is required by the SASA to “maintain reasonable control of his speed and course at all times,” MCL 408.342 (emphasis added). I would conclude that the obligation to reasonably control one’s course includes the expectation that a plaintiff will avoid known hazards. Here, plaintiff’s failure to reasonably control his course of travel after [*6] executing a jump resulted in him coming up to and falling into the half pipe that he admittedly knew was located in that area of the terrain pipe. For that reason, I would reverse and remand.
/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra
New York Skier Safety Act
General Obligations Law
ARTICLE 18. SAFETY IN SKIING CODE
NY CLS Gen Oblig Article 18 Note (2012)
Gen Oblig Article 18 Note
Add, L 1988, ch 711, § 1, eff Nov 1, 1988 (see 1988 note below).
Laws 1988, ch 711, § 4, eff Nov 1, 1988, provides as follows:
§ 4. This act shall take effect on November first, nineteen hundred eighty-eight; provided that section 18-106 of the general obligations law, as added by section one of this act, shall take effect on the first day of October, nineteen hundred eighty-nine; and provided further that the commissioner of labor, effective immediately, is authorized and directed to promulgate any and all rules and regulations necessary to the timely implementation of the provisions of this act on their effective dates.
Research References & Practice Aids:
3 NY Jur 2d Amusements and Exhibitions § 30
The legislature hereby finds that alpine or downhill skiing is both a major recreational sport and a major industry within the state of New York. The legislature further finds: (1) that downhill skiing, like many other sports, contains inherent risks including, but not limited to, the risks of personal injury or death or property damage, which may be caused by variations in terrain or weather conditions; surface or subsurface snow, ice, bare spots or areas of thin cover, moguls, ruts, bumps; other persons using the facilities; and rocks, forest growth, debris, branches, trees, roots, stumps or other natural objects or man-made objects that are incidental to the provision or maintenance of a ski facility in New York state; (2) that downhill skiing, without established rules of conduct and care, may result in injuries to persons and property; (3) that it is appropriate, as well as in the public interest, to take such steps as are necessary to help reduce the risk of injury to downhill skiers from undue, unnecessary and unreasonable hazards; and (4) that it is also necessary and appropriate that skiers become apprised of, and understand, the risks inherent in the sport of skiing so that they may make an informed decision of whether or not to participate in skiing notwithstanding the risks. Therefore, the purpose and intent of this article is to establish a code of conduct for downhill skiers and ski area operators to minimize the risk of injury to persons engaged in the sport of downhill skiing and to promote safety in the downhill ski industry.
The following words and phrases when used in this article shall have, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the meanings given to them in this section:
1. “Lift ticket” means any item issued by a ski area operator to any skier that is intended to be affixed to the outerwear of the skier, or otherwise displayed by a skier, to signify lawful entry upon and use of the passenger tramways or ski slopes or trails maintained by the ski area operator.
2. “Passenger tramway” means a mechanical device intended to transport skiers for the purpose of providing access to ski slopes and trails as defined by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section two hundred two-c or eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law.
3. “Passenger” means a person in or on or being transported by a tramway.
4. “Ski area” means all ski slopes, ski trails and passenger tramways administered as a single enterprise within this state.
5. “Ski area operator” means a person, firm or corporation, and its agents and employees, having operational and administrative responsibility for any ski area, including any agency of the state, any political subdivision thereof, and any other governmental agency or instrumentality.
6. “Skier” means any person wearing a ski or skis and any person actually on a ski slope or trail located at a ski area, for the purpose of skiing.
7. “Ski slopes and trails” mean those areas designated by the ski area operator for skiing.
Every ski area operator shall have the following duties:
1. To equip all trail maintenance vehicles with such warning implements or devices as shall be specified by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law. Such implements or devices shall be present and operating whenever the vehicle is within the borders of any slope or trail.
2. To post in a location likely to be seen by all skiers signs of such size and color as will enable skiers to have knowledge of their responsibilities under this article.
3. To hold employee training sessions at least once before the beginning of each season, the contents of which shall be specified by the commissioner of labor upon the recommendation of the passenger tramway advisory council, as follows:
a. for operators of trail maintenance equipment concerning the safe operation of such vehicles in the ski area;
b. for passenger tramway attendants concerning the safe operation of passenger tramways;
c. for ski personnel charged with the responsibility of evacuating passengers from passenger tramways concerning proper evacuation techniques; and
d. for all other personnel charged with on-mountain maintenance, inspection or patrol duties as to methods to be used for summoning aid in emergencies.
4. To conspicuously mark with such implements as may be specified by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law, the location of such man-made obstructions as, but not limited to, snow-making equipment, electrical outlets, timing equipment, stanchions, pipes, or storage areas that are within the borders of the designated slope or trail, when the top of such obstruction is less than six feet above snow level.
5. To maintain in a central location at the ski area an information board or boards showing at a minimum the following:
a. the location of tramways, slopes or trails;
b. the status of each trail–open or closed;
c. the location of emergency communications or medical equipment and sites designated by the ski area operator for receipt of notice from skiers pursuant to subdivision thirteen of this section;
d. the relative degree of difficulty of each slope or trail (at a minimum easier, more difficult, most difficult); and
e. the general surface condition of each slope and trail as most recently recorded in the log required to be maintained by subdivision six of this section.
6. To inspect each open slope or trail that is open to the public within the ski area at least twice a day, and enter the results of such inspection in a log which shall be available for examination by the commissioner of labor. The log shall note:
a. the general surface conditions of such trail at the time of inspection (powder, packed powder, frozen granular, icy patches or icy surface, bare spots or other surface conditions);
b. the time of inspection and the name of the inspector;
c. the existence of any obstacles or hazards other than those which may arise from:
(i) skier use;
(ii) weather variations including freezing and thawing; or
(iii) mechanical failure of snow grooming or emergency equipment which may position such equipment within the borders of a slope or trail.
7. To develop and maintain a written policy consistent with the regulations of the commissioner of labor upon the advice of the passenger tramway advisory council for situations involving the reckless conduct of skiers, which shall include, but not be limited to:
a. a definition of reckless conduct; and
b. procedures for approaching and warning skiers of reckless conduct and procedures for dealing with such skiers which may include the revocation of the lift tickets of such skiers.
8. To designate personnel to implement the ski area’s policy on reckless conduct.
9. To report to the commissioner of labor by telephone within twenty-four hours any fatality or injury resulting in a fatality at the ski area.
10. To conspicuously post and maintain such ski area signage, including appropriate signage at the top of affected ski slopes and trails, notice of maintenance activities and for passenger tramways as shall be specified by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section two hundred two-c or eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law.
11. To post in a conspicuous location at each lift line a sign, which shall indicate the degree of difficulty of trails served by that lift with signs as shall be specified by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section two hundred two-c or eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law.
12. To ensure that lift towers located within the boundaries of any ski slope or trail are padded or otherwise protected and that no protruding metal or wood objects, such as ladders or steps, shall be installed on the uphill or side portion of lift towers within the borders of a ski slope or trail, unless such objects are below the snow line, at least six feet above it, or padded or otherwise protected with such devices as, but not limited to, the following:
a. commercially available tower padding;
b. air or foam filled bags;
c. hay bales encased in a waterproof cover; or
d. soft rope nets properly spaced from the tower.
13. To, within a reasonable amount of time after the inspection required by subdivision six of this section, conspicuously mark with such implements as may be specified by the commissioner of labor pursuant to section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law and to provide sufficient warning to skiers by such marking or remove such obstacles or hazards which are located within the boundaries of any ski slope or trail and were noted pursuant to paragraph c of subdivision six of this section; and to also conspicuously mark with such implements and provide such warning or remove such obstacles or hazards within a reasonable amount of time after receipt of notice by the ski area operator from any skier as to the presence of such obstacles or hazards when notice is given at sites designated by the ski area operator for such receipt and the locations of which are made known to skiers pursuant to paragraph c of subdivision five of this section.
14. To have present at all times when skiing activity is in progress, individuals properly and appropriately trained for the safe operation of on-slope vehicles; trail maintenance equipment; tramways; tramway evacuations; implementation of the reckless skier policy; first aid and outdoor rescue; and, to have present according to a schedule posted for access by skiers, by the ski area operator, personnel appropriately trained in the instruction of skiers and passengers in methods of risk reduction while using ski slopes and passenger tramways and the instruction of skiers with respect to the risks inherent in the sport.
All passengers shall have the following duties:
1. To familiarize themselves with the safe use of any tramway prior to its use;
2. To remain in the tramway if the operation of a passenger tramway, as defined pursuant to section two hundred two-c of the labor law, is interrupted for any reason, until instructions or aid are provided by the ski area operator;
3. To board or disembark from passenger tramways only at points or areas designated by the ski area operator;
4. Not to eject any objects or material from a passenger tramway;
5. To use restraint devices in accordance with posted instructions;
6. To wear retention straps or other devices to prevent runaway skis;
7. Not to interfere with the operation of a passenger tramway;
8. Not to place or caused to be placed on the uphill track of a surface lift any object which may interfere with its normal operation; and
9. Not to wear loose scarves, clothing or accessories or expose long hair which may become entangled with any part of the device.
All skiers shall have the following duties:
1. Not to ski in any area not designated for skiing;
2. Not to ski beyond their limits or ability to overcome variations in slope, trail configuration and surface or subsurface conditions which may be caused or altered by weather, slope or trail maintenance work by the ski area operator, or skier use;
3. To abide by the directions of the ski area operator;
4. To remain in constant control of speed and course at all times while skiing so as to avoid contact with plainly visible or clearly marked obstacles and with other skiers and passengers on surface operating tramways;
5. To familiarize themselves with posted information before skiing any slope or trail, including all information posted pursuant to subdivision five of section 18-103 of this article;
6. Not to cross the uphill track of any surface lift, except at points clearly designated by the ski area operator;
7. Not to ski on a slope or trail or portion thereof that has been designated as “closed” by the ski area operator;
8. Not to leave the scene of any accident resulting in personal injury to another party until such times as the ski area operator arrives, except for the purpose of summoning aid;
9. Not to overtake another skier in such a manner as to cause contact with the skier being overtaken and to yield the right-of-way to the skier being overtaken;
10. Not to willfully stop on any slope or trail where such stopping is likely to cause a collision with other skiers or vehicles;
11. To yield to other skiers when entering a trail or starting downhill;
12. To wear retention straps or other devices to prevent runaway skis;
13. To report any personal injury to the ski area operator before leaving the ski area; and
14. Not to willfully remove, deface, alter or otherwise damage signage, warning devices or implements, or other safety devices placed and maintained by the ski area operator pursuant to the requirements of section 18-103 of this article.
It is recognized that skiing is a voluntary activity that may be hazardous regardless of all feasible safety measures that can be undertaken by ski area operators. Accordingly:
1. Ski area operators shall have the following additional duties:
a. To post at every point of sale or distribution of lift tickets, whether on or off the premises of the ski area operator, a conspicuous “Warning to Skiers” relative to the inherent risks of skiing in accordance with regulations promulgated by the commissioner of labor pursuant to subdivision four of section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law, and to imprint upon all lift tickets sold or distributed, such text and graphics as the commissioner of labor shall similarly specify, which shall conspicuously direct the attention of all skiers to the required “Warning to Skiers”;
b. To post at every point of sale or distribution of lift tickets at a ski area notice to skiers and passengers that this article prescribes certain duties for skiers, passengers and ski area operators, and to make copies of this article in its entirety available without charge upon request to skiers and passengers in a central location at the ski area;
c. To make available at reasonable fees, as required by subdivision thirteen of section 18-103 of this article, instruction and education for skiers relative to the risks inherent in the sport and the duties prescribed for skiers by this article, and to conspicuously post notice of the times and places of availability of such instruction and education in locations where it is likely to be seen by skiers; and
d. To post notice to skiers of the right to a refund to the purchaser in the form and amount paid in the initial sale of any lift ticket returned to the ski area operator, intact and unused, upon declaration by such purchaser that he or she is unprepared or unwilling to ski due to the risks inherent in the sport or the duties imposed upon him or her by this article.
2. Skiers shall have the following additional duties to enable them to make informed decisions as to the advisability of their participation in the sport:
a. To seek out, read, review and understand, in advance of skiing, a “Warning to Skiers” as shall be defined pursuant to subdivision five of section eight hundred sixty-seven of the labor law, which shall be displayed and provided pursuant to paragraph a of subdivision one of this section; and
b. To obtain such education in the sport of skiing as the individual skier shall deem appropriate to his or her level of ability, including the familiarization with skills and duties necessary to reduce the risk of injury in such sport.
Unless otherwise specifically provided in this article, the duties of skiers, passengers, and ski area operators shall be governed by common law.
If any provision of this article or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of this article that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this article are declared to be severable.
1. The [fig 1] commissioner, on the advice of the passenger tramway advisory council as created pursuant to section twelve-c of this chapter, shall promulgate rules and regulations, consistent with article eighteen of the general obligations law, intended to guard against personal injuries to downhill skiers which will, in view of such intent, define the duties and responsibilities of downhill skiers and the duties and responsibilities of ski area operators.
2. The commissioner shall enforce all the provisions of this article and the regulations adopted pursuant hereto and may issue such orders against any entity, public or private, as he finds necessary, directing compliance with any provision of this article or such regulations. The commissioner may also investigate any fatality or injury resulting in a fatality at a ski area.
3. The passenger tramway advisory council shall conduct any investigation necessary to carry out the provisions of this [fig 1] article.
4. The passenger tramway advisory council shall conduct public hearings on any rules and regulations proposed under this section prior to their promulgation by the [fig 1] commissioner. The passenger tramway advisory council shall fix a time and place for each such hearing and cause such notice as it may deem appropriate to be given to the public and news media prior to such a hearing. Testimony may be taken and evidence received at such a hearing pursuant to procedures prescribed by the passenger tramway advisory council.
5. Upon advice of the passenger tramway advisory council, the commission shall, on the fifteenth day of March, nineteen hundred eighty-nine, promulgate rules which shall set forth specifications for the uniform textual and graphic content, physical description, and conspicuous posting of a “Warning to Skiers” regarding the risks inherent in the sport as set forth in section 18-101 of the general obligations law, which shall be posted and provided to skiers by ski areas operators in accordance with subdivision one of section 18-106 of the general obligations law, and shall promulgate rules which shall set forth textual and graphic specifications designed to occupy not more than twenty-five percent of the imprintable surface area of the face side nor more than eighty percent of the imprintable surface area of the reverse side or backing paper of all lift tickets sold or distributed in the state, as defined by section 18-102 of the general obligations law, which shall uniformly serve to direct the attention of all skiers to the “Warning to Skiers” herein directed to be promulgated and required by section 18-106 of the general obligations law.
North Dakota Skier Safety Act
TITLE 53 Sports and Amusements
CHAPTER 53-09 Skiing Responsibility Act
Go to the North Dakota Code Archive Directory
N.D. Cent. Code, § 53-09-01 (2013)
53-09-01. Legislative purpose.
The legislative assembly finds that the sport of skiing is practiced in this state by a growing number of North Dakota citizens and nonresidents. Since it is recognized that there are inherent risks in the sport of skiing which should be understood by each skier and which are essentially impossible to eliminate by the ski area operator, it is the purpose of this chapter to define those areas of responsibility and affirmative acts for which ski area operators shall be liable for loss, damage, or injury and those risks which the skier expressly assumes and for which there can be no recovery.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 2.
Because this chapter bears a close correspondence to the legislative intent and does not create an impermissible classification, it does not violate the state’s constitutional guarantee to equal protection of the laws. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
Because this chapter applies to all persons operating a skiing facilty within the state, this is a permissible class and does not create a special law, as prohibited by the N.D. Const., Art. IV, § 13. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
Because this chapter does not operate as an absolute bar to recovery, it did not act as a denial of plaintiff’s access to the courts, as protected by the N.D. Const., Art. I, § 9. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
Go to Topic List Legislative Intent.
The legislative goal of this chapter is to limit the liability for ski facility operators from some of the inherent risks associated with skiing. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
27A Am. Jur. 2d, Entertainment and Sports Law, §§ 54-66, 86, 95-98.
Liability of operator of skiing, tobagganing, or bobsledding facilities for injury to patron or participant, 94 A.L.R.2d 1431.
Liability for injury or death from ski lift, ski tow or similar device, 95 A.L.R.3d 203.
Ski resort’s liability for skier’s injuries resulting from condition of ski run or slope, 55 A.L.R.4th 632.
Skier’s liability for injuries to or death of another person, 75 A.L.R.5th 583.
The following words and phrases when used in this chapter have, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the meaning given to them in this section:
1. “Aerial passenger tramway” means any device operated by a ski area operator used to transport passengers, by single or double reversible tramway; chairlift or gondola lift; t-bar lift, j-bar lift, platter lift, or similar device; or a fiber rope tow.
2. “Passenger” means any person who is lawfully using an aerial passenger tramway or is waiting to embark or has recently disembarked from an aerial passenger tramway and is in its immediate vicinity.
3. “Ski area” means property owned or leased and under the control of the ski area operator and administered as a single enterprise within the state of North Dakota.
4. “Ski area operator” means any person, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, or other commercial entity and their agents, officers, managers, employees, or representatives, who has operational responsibility for any ski area or aerial passenger tramway.
5. “Ski slopes and trails” means those areas designed by the ski area operator to be used by skiers for the purpose of participating in the sport of skiing.
6. “Skier” means any person present at a skiing area under the control of the ski operator for the purpose of engaging in the sport of skiing by utilizing the ski slopes and trails and does not include the use of an aerial passenger tramway.
7. “Skiing area” means all slopes and trails not including any aerial passenger tramway.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 3; 1993, ch. 54, § 106.
53-09-03. Duties of ski operators with respect to ski areas.
Every ski operator shall have the following duties with respect to its operation of a skiing area:
1. To mark all trail maintenance vehicles and to furnish such vehicles with flashing or rotating lights which must be in operation whenever the vehicles are working or are in movement in the skiing area.
2. To mark with a visible sign or other warning implement the location of any hydrant or similar equipment used in snowmaking operations and located on ski slopes and trails.
3. To mark conspicuously the top or entrance to each slope, trail, or area with the appropriate symbol for its relative degree of difficulty and those slopes, trails, or areas which are closed, or portions of which present an unusual obstacle, must be marked at the top or entrance with appropriate symbols.
4. To maintain one or more trail boards at prominent locations at each ski area displaying that area’s network of ski trails and slopes with each trail and slope rated thereon in accordance with the symbols provided for in subsection 3.
5. To designate by trail board or other means which trails or slopes are open or closed.
6. To place, or cause to be placed, whenever snow grooming or snowmaking operations are being undertaken upon any trail or slope while such trail or slope is open to the public, a conspicuous notice to that effect at or near the top of such trail or slope.
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.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 4.
There should be no liability for a ski area operator if the design of the ski run creates natural conditions, necessary to the enjoyment of the sport, and the design is so obviously dangerous the skier assumes the risk. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
Go to Topic List Nonexclusive List.
This section is a nonexclusive list of duties for ski facility operators. Bouchard v. Johnson, 555 N.W.2d 81 (N.D. 1996).
53-09-04. Duties of ski area operators with respect to aerial passenger tramways.
Every ski area operator shall have the duty to construct, operate, maintain, and repair any aerial passenger tramway in a safe and responsible manner.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 5.
53-09-05. Duties of passengers.
Every passenger shall have the duty not to:
1. Board or embark upon or disembark from an aerial passenger tramway except at an area designated for such purpose.
2. Intentionally drop, throw, or expel any object from an aerial passenger tramway.
3. Do any act which interferes with the running or operation of an aerial passenger tramway.
4. Use any aerial passenger tramway unless the passenger has the ability to use it safely without any instruction on its use by the ski area operator or requests and receives instructions before entering the boarding area of the aerial passenger tramway.
5. Engage in any harmful conduct or willfully or negligently engage in any type of conduct which contributes to or causes injury to another person.
6. Embark on an aerial passenger tramway without the authority of the ski area operator.
7. Use any aerial passenger tramway without engaging such safety or restraining devices as may be provided.
8. Wear skis without properly securing ski retention straps.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 6.
53-09-06. Duties of skiers.
It is recognized that skiing as a recreational sport is hazardous to skiers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Each skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to person or property which results from participation in the sport of skiing including any injury caused by the following: variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, or other forms of forest growth or debris, lift towers and components thereof; pole lines; and snowmaking equipment which are plainly visible or are plainly marked in accordance with the provisions of section 53-09-03. Therefore, each skier shall have the sole individual responsibility for knowing the range of that skier’s own ability to negotiate any slope, trail, or aerial passenger tramway, and it is the duty of each skier to ski within the limits of the skier’s own ability, to make reasonable control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, to ski only on a skiing area designated by the ski area operator, and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of anyone. The responsibility for collisions by any skier while actually skiing, with any person or object, is solely that of the individual or individuals involved in such collision and not that of the ski area operator. No person may:
1. Unless authorized by the ski area operator, place any object in the skiing area or on the uphill track of any aerial passenger tramway which may cause a passenger or skier to fall.
2. Cross the track of a t-bar lift, j-bar lift, platter lift or similar device, or a fiber rope tow except at a designated location.
3. Fail to wear retention straps or other devices to help prevent runaway skis.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 7.
53-09-07. Liability of ski area operators.
Any ski area operator is liable for loss or damages caused by its failure to follow the duties set forth in sections 53-09-03 and 53-09-04 when the violation of duty is causally related to loss or damage suffered. A ski area operator is not liable to any passenger or skier acting in violation of the passenger’s or skier’s duties as set forth in sections 53-09-05 and 53-09-06, when the violation of duty by the passenger or skier is causally related to the loss or damage suffered; nor is a ski area operator liable for any loss or damage caused by any object dropped, thrown, or expelled by a passenger from an aerial passenger tramway.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 8.
53-09-08. Liability of passengers.
Any passenger is liable for loss or damages resulting from violation of the duties set forth in section 53-09-05 and shall not be able to recover from the ski area operator for any losses or damages when a violation of the duties set forth in section 53-09-05 is causally related to the loss or damage suffered by the passenger.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 9.
53-09-09. Liability of skiers.
Any skier is liable for loss or damages resulting from violation of the duties set forth in section 53-09-06 and shall not be able to recover from the ski area operator for losses or damages when the violation of the skier’s duty is causally related to the loss or damage suffered by the skier.
HISTORY: S.L. 1979, ch. 532, § 10.
North Carolina Skier Safety Act
General Statutes of North Carolina
CHAPTER 99C. ACTIONS RELATING TO WINTER SPORTS SAFETY AND ACCIDENTS
Go to the North Carolina Code Archive Directory
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99C-1 (2013)
§ 99C-1. Definitions
When used in this Chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) Competitor. — A skier actually engaged in competition or in practice therefor with the permission of the ski area operator on any slope or trail or portion thereof designated by the ski area operator for the purpose of competition.
(1a) Freestyle terrain. — Constructed and natural features in ski areas intended for winter sports including, but not limited to, terrain parks and terrain park features such as jumps, rails, fun boxes, half-pipes, quarter-pipes, and freestyle-bump terrain.
(2) Passenger. — Any person who is being transported or is awaiting transportation, or being conveyed on a passenger tramway or is moving from the disembarkation point of a passenger tramway or is in the act of embarking upon or disembarking from a passenger tramway.
(3) Passenger tramway. — Any device used to transport passengers uphill on skis or other winter sports devices, or in cars on tracks, or suspended in the air, by the use of steel cables, chains, belts or ropes. Such definition shall include such devices as a chair lift, J Bar, or platter pull, rope tow, and wire tow.
(4) Ski area. — All winter sports slopes, alpine and Nordic ski trails, freestyle terrain and passenger tramways, that are administered or operated as a ski area enterprise within this State.
(5) Ski area operator. — A person, corporation, or organization that is responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of the ski area.
(6) Skier. — Any person who is wearing skis or other winter sports devices or any person who for the purpose of skiing or other winter sports is on a designated and clearly marked winter sports slope, alpine or Nordic ski trail or freestyle terrain that is located at a ski area, or any person who is a passenger or spectator at a ski area.
(7) Winter sports. — Any use of skis, snowboards, snowshoes, or any other device for skiing, sliding, jumping, or traveling on snow or ice.
§ 99C-2. Duties of ski area operators and skiers
(a) A ski area operator shall be responsible for the maintenance and safe operation of any passenger tramway in his ski area and insure that such is in conformity with the rules and regulations prescribed and adopted by the North Carolina Department of Labor pursuant to G.S. 95-120(1) as such appear in the North Carolina Administrative Procedures Act. The North Carolina Department of Labor shall conduct certifications and inspections of passenger tramways.
A ski area operator’s responsibility regarding passenger tramways shall include, but is not limited to, insuring operating personnel are adequately trained and are adequate in number; meeting all standards set forth for terminals, stations, line structures, and line equipment; meeting all rules and regulations regarding the safe operation and maintenance of all passenger lifts and tramways, including all necessary inspections and record keeping.
(b) A skier shall have the following responsibilities:
(1) To know the range of the skier’s abilities to negotiate any ski slope or trail and to ski within the limits of such ability;
(2) To maintain control of the skier’s speed and course at all times when skiing and to maintain a proper lookout so as to be able to avoid other skiers and obvious hazards and inherent risks, including variations in terrain, snow, or ice conditions, bare spots and rocks, trees and other forms of forest growth or forest debris;
(3) To stay clear of snow grooming equipment, all vehicles, pole lines, lift towers, signs, snowmaking equipment, and any other equipment on the ski slopes and trails;
(4) To heed all posted information and other warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of the skier or others;
(5) To wear retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway skis or snowboards;
(6) Before beginning to ski from a stationary position or before entering a ski slope or trail from the side, to avoid moving skiers already on the ski slope or trail;
(7) To not 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 narcotic or other drug or while such person is under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic or any drug;
(8) If involved in a collision with another skier or person, to not leave the vicinity of the collision before giving his name and current address to an employee of the ski area operator, a member of the ski patrol, or the other skier or person with whom the skier collided, except in those cases when medical treatment is required; in which case, said information shall be provided as soon as practical after the medical treatment has been obtained. If the other person involved in the collision is unknown, the skier shall leave the personal identification required by this subsection with the ski area operator;
(9) Not to embark upon or disembark from a passenger tramway except at an area that is designated for such purpose;
(10) Not to throw or expel any object from a passenger tramway;
(11) Not to perform any action that interferes with the operation or running of a passenger tramway;
(12) Not to use such tramway unless the skier has the ability to use it with reasonable safety;
(13) Not to engage willfully or negligently in any type conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties;
(14) Not to embark upon a passenger tramway without the authority of the ski area operator;
(15) If using freestyle terrain, to know the range of the skier’s abilities to negotiate the terrain and to avoid conditions and obstacles beyond the limits of such ability that a visible inspection should have revealed.
(c) A ski area operator shall have the following responsibilities:
(1) To mark all trails and maintenance vehicles and to furnish such vehicles with flashing or rotating lights that shall be in operation whenever the vehicles are working or moving in the ski area;
(2) To mark with a visible sign or other warning implement the location of any hydrant or similar equipment that is used in snowmaking operations and located anywhere in the ski area;
(3) To indicate the relative degree of difficulty of a slope or trail by appropriate signs. Such signs are to be prominently displayed at the base of a slope where skiers embark on a passenger tramway serving the slope or trail, or at the top of a slope or trail. The signs must be of the type that have been approved by the National Ski Areas Association and are in current use by the industry;
(4) To post at or near the top of or entrance to, any designated slope or trail, signs giving reasonable notice of unusual conditions on the slope or trail;
(5) To provide adequate ski patrols;
(6) To mark clearly any hidden rock, hidden stump, or any other hidden hazard known by the ski area operator to exist;
(6a) To inspect the winter sports slopes, alpine and Nordic ski trails, and freestyle terrains that are open to the public at least twice daily and maintain a log recording: (i) the time of the inspection and the name of the inspector(s); and (ii) the general surface conditions, based on industry standards, for the entire ski area at the time of the inspections;
(6b) To post, in a conspicuous manner, the general surface conditions for the entire ski area twice daily; and
(7) Not to engage willfully or negligently in any type conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties.
§ 99C-3. Violation constitutes negligence
A violation of any responsibility placed on the skier, passenger or ski area operator as set forth in G.S. 99C-2, to the extent such violation proximately causes injury to any person or damage to any property, shall constitute negligence on the part of the person violating the provisions of that section.
§ 99C-4. Competition
The ski area operator shall, prior to the beginning of a competition, allow each competitor a reasonable visual inspection of the course or area where the competition is to be held. The competitor shall be held to assume risk of all course conditions including, but not limited to, weather and snow conditions, course construction or layout, and obstacles which a visual inspection should have revealed. No liability shall attach to a ski area operator for injury or death of any competitor proximately caused by such assumed risk.