West Virginia Ski Law
The “Skiing Responsibility Act,” W. Va. Code Ann. §§ 20-3A-1 to 20-3A-8, immunizes ski area operators from all tort liability arising from the “inherent risks” of skiing that are “essentially impossible to eliminate.” Skiers, who have duties to ski within their abilities and avoid collisions, assume these risks, but operators remain liable for intentional torts or negligence, where either involves breach of the operator’s duty to maintain ski areas in a “reasonably safe condition.” Volunteer members of a national ski patrol system are immunized for claims arising from rescue operations, including those at ski resorts; the statute was repealed in 1998, and reenacted in 2003. W. Va. Code Ann. § 55-7-16.
Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., Not Reported in S.E.2d, Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (2013)
Glen Addis was an experienced skier and former ski instructor, and had skied Lower Shay’s Revenge many times prior to his accident. His fall occurred on his second run on that trail on the morning of January 24, 2009. On his second run, his right ski became dislodged. He then stopped on a “very steep slope” and, while attempting to put his ski back on, he slipped on ice, over a drop-off, and into the nearby wooded area. Addis struck a tree, fracturing both femurs and his pelvis.
Glen Addis was using a season ski pass. In obtaining that pass, he signed a waiver.
Snowshoe Mountain filed a motion for summary judgment after the close of discovery, and the circuit court granted the motion finding that Addis’ claims were barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and by release and waiver language contained in an agreement signed by petitioner. Addis appealed the grant of summary judgment.
Addis argued that Snowshoe lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards. But the Court found no evidence in the record to support any such asserted failure, thus finding immunity for the resort under the ski safety act. Addis also argued that the release should be found void because exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. However, since the Court found no violation of statutory duties, the release was held as valid. Dismissal was affirmed.
Prior to 2006
Hardin v. Ski Venture, Inc., 50 F.3d 1291 (4th Cir. 1995). At Snowshoe Ski Resort, Hardin skied through a plume of wet manufactured snow being sprayed by a shoemaking gun pointed uphill. Hardin’s goggles became iced, and he hit a tree, sustaining injuries that left him quadriplegic. At the trial level, Hardin alleged operator negligence in directing the gun uphill, in producing snow so wet that his goggles became iced, and failure to allow a good flow of skiers around the shoemaking gun all in violation of the operator’s own policy guidelines. The trial court denied the operator summary judgment, determining that the alleged negligence created a question of fact for the jury as to whether operator fulfilled a duty under the Skiing Responsibility Act to maintain the area in a “reasonably safe condition,” and a jury later returned a verdict for defendant. Hardin v. Ski Venture, Inc., 848 F.Supp 58 (N.D.W.Va. 1994). Hardin appealed, claiming that his fact-specific jury instructions were improperly excluded. The appellate court disagreed, affirming the verdict.
In Pinson v. Canaan Valley Resorts, 473 S.E.2d 151 (W.Va. 1996), the Supreme Court of Appeals of Vermont distinguished the Hardin case in granting the defendant operator summary judgment on the basis of the Act. Pinson alleged injury due to an ungroomed slope. As a matter of law, the court found no breach of maintenance duty that would allow plaintiff’s claims to proceed. The court noted that it had been “snowing steadily” all day up until Ms. Pinton’s injury, and that Pinson had not alleged any particular breach of statutory duty or negligence, such as the shoemaking gun operation in Hardin, that created a triable issue of fact. The court held that while the legislature did not intend to grant operators immunity for their intentional torts or negligence, they were immunized from the “inherent risks” of skiing, including risks associated with surface or subsurface snow and ice, which are “essentially impossible to eliminate,” even with reasonable maintenance; the burden of going forward rested on plaintiff.