Ski Resort Negligence
What negligence claims can be brought against a ski resort?
Most states, including Colorado and Utah, employ an assumption of risk or inherent risk doctrine which protects ski areas against claims arising from the inherent dangers of downhill skiing and snowboarding. However, these states allow recovery against ski area operators for injuries caused by those hazards which are not “inherent dangers.” These may include open excavations, parked heavy machinery around a blind corner, collisions with moving equipment which is the fault of the operator’s employee. Terrain park and tubing hill injuries are often the most severe. The law in this area is developing as fast as the sport itself.
The ski area operator may be liable for accidents resulting from improperly designed or maintained trails, unmarked man-made objects on groomed slopes, or in-area avalanches. Accidents may also result from negligent operation of snow maintenance vehicles such as snowmobiles or snowcats.
Most states mandate minimal safety standards for the operation of the ski areas, which if specifically violated, form the basis of a claim against a ski area operator for a downhill skiing/snowboarding accident. Absent a specific statutory standard, the presumption in favor of the ski area operator that the accident was a result of an inherent danger is only rebuttable through evidence that the accident was not an “inherent danger.” Thus, exceptions such as downed telephone wires, or heavy equipment parked around a blind corner, may be the basis for a claim against the ski area operator.
Laws typically hold ski area operators to a high standard of care in the operation, use, and maintenance of lifts, trams, and tows.
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What makes a ski area accident case unique?
The Colorado Ski Safety Act and the Utah Inherent Risks of Skiing Act set forth safety standards and immunities for the operation of ski areas. Extensive knowledge of these laws and their interpretation by the courts is critical when pursuing a claim against the ski area.
Waivers signed with a season pass or at the ticket window are also a common issue complicating a claim against a ski area operator. Ski area operators have required waivers for years. In Utah, these waivers are generally void. In Colorado, they are generally enforceable. However, our firm has successfully argued that a Colorado ski area cannot use a waiver to prevent the injured victim from suing the ski resort when the operator neglects its duties under the Ski Safety Act.
What to expect from a ski area negligence lawsuit?
Generally, ski area management will compile a comprehensive report concerning the nature, location, and causes of a major ski accident, particularly one involving area employees. But you may not be provided a complete copy of the accident file without legal representation. Many ski area operators will only produce the complete file in response to a subpoena from an attorney. A successful claim for ski area negligence usually involves serious damages – the exceptions which allow a claim to be brought also tend to produce catastrophic injuries. Medical expenses for internal injuries and broken bones can easily run into six-figures.
The nature of the injuries suffered in many ski accidents often means expensive treatment and rehabilitation are needed over a long-term period. Other expenses which arise include future medical expenses, often coupled with a loss of income if the victim was previously employed. Usually, the worst parts of the injury are the pain, the difficulty during recovery, and permanent physical impairment. The injured skier may seek compensation from the ski area operator for all of these losses.