Pennsylvania Ski Law
In adopting comparative negligence, Pennsylvania expressly preserved the common law doctrine of voluntary assumption of risk as it applies to downhill skiing and injuries. See 42 Pa.C.S. §7102 (“Skier’s Responsibility Act”). The “inherent risks” in the sport of skiing have been expnded by the Pennsylvania case law to include skier/skier collisions and falling from a chair lift. It is difficult to imagine any claim for a ski accident which would not be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine at this time.
Also of note, it is not against public policy for insurance companies to cover ski area operators for punitive damages in downhill skiing cases. 42 Pa.C.S. Ann § 2051. Except for intentional or grossly negligent conduct, ski patrol members are granted civil immunity under the general Good Samaritan statute, found at 42 Pa.C.S. Ann. § 8332.
Review a few Ski Law cases from Pennsylvania below.
Prior to 2006
In a case of first impression, the Superior Court declared that the risk of being struck from behind by high school student snowboarding under the influence of alcohol was not a risk “inherent” to downhill skiing, and allowed plaintiff to recover. Crews v. Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 874 A.2d 100 (Pa. Super. 2005). In reaching its decision, the Crews court determined that for purposes of the Skier’s Responsibility Act and a waiver of liability, the court is to determine what is an “inherent risk” as a matter of law. The court discussed the limitations of the so-called “no duty” rule an interpretation of voluntary assumption of risk doctrine recognized by the court as applying to “amusement facilities which have not deviated in some relevant respect from established custom.” The court recognized that the rule does not abrogate the duty of such a facility to protect patrons from “forseeably dangerous conditions not inherent in the activity.” Id. at 103, citing Jones v. Three Rivers Management Corp., 394 A.2d 546, 551 (Pa. 1978) [emphasis added]. The Crews court found in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the resort had knowledge of underage drinker/skiers, and failed to take any action to reduce the risk to its patrons. Interesting, then, is the extension of the “no duty” rule to an inherent risk analysis in a case where the skier sued a colliding snowboarder directly. See Cruz v. Gloss, Memorandum Disposition No. 2944 EDA 2003, entered October 25, 2005 (Pa. Super.). Relying in part on Crews, the Superior Court found error in the Court of Common Pleas’ decision to submit the question of inherent risk to the jury, rather than making that determination as a matter of law. The Superior Court, however, found harmless error in that the collision was, as a matter of law, an inherent risk that plaintiff assumed, and that this determination should have been made at the time of defendant’s motion for summary judgment, precluding plaintiff from recovery and determining the case. In interpreting the doctrine of voluntary assumption of an inherent risk, the court referenced four variations acknowledged in the Restatement of Torts, and applied the “no duty” rule, as applied to an amusement facility (particularly, a ski resort) in Crews. Plaintiff’s arguments regarding defendant’s negligence and recklessness, and that the legislature intended assumption of risk doctrine to benefit only ski area operators were rejected. (This argument is supported by the statement of purpose in the 1979 Act, as it was introduced.) The court interpreted the short but broadly-worded language of the Skier’s Responsibility Act as adopted by the legislature to command application of the “no duty” rule in any claim arising from plaintiff’s participation in “downhill skiing” where injury is caused by a court- determined “inherent risk.” For further discussion of these issues, together with an attempt to define the “inherent risks” of skiing, see Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 762 A.2d 339 (Pa. 2000) (cited heavily in Cruz); see also Bullman v. Giuntoli, 761 A.2d 566 at 573 (Pa. Super. 2000) (dicta suggesting that the inherent risks of skiing do not include that which happens suddenly or without warning, nor the affirmative negligence of another.) Some of these issues may ultimately be resolved by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, as appeals are presently contemplated in both the Crews and Cruz cases.