I just wanted to preface this post with the fact that I'm not a personal injury attorney and I am no way advocating the filing of a lawsuit against ski areas. The above picture is attributed to Wildcat Mountain. It was taken on Sunday November 4, 2013.
The new ski season is something to get excited about in New Hampshire. While getting injured isn't exciting, it's a fact that all of us who partake in winter sports must acknowledge. Every year there are as many as 40 deaths on ski slopes in the United States. Many more people are gravely injured or lose the use of their arms/legs. So what happens if you get injured skiing? Is the ski resort at fault?
For a ski resort to be found liable, a court must find that they were negligent AND that the injured party didn't assume the risk of the accident occurring in the first place. Ski resorts, and similar "activity" businesses, first line of defense is the ticket contract.
(Click to enlarge)
The Lift Ticket Contract
All of this text (pictured to the left) fits on the back of a lift ticket that's only 2-3 inches square. The text font is about 6 point and the ticket consists of almost incomprehensible legalese. When you pay for and accept this ticket, you form a contract between you and the ski resort. There is a whole area of law that discusses whether this "contact" is even valid, but for our purposes, lets assume that it is.
This contract attempts to do two things. First, it attempts to limit the ski resorts liability by making it crystal clear that it's not responsible for the risks inherent in skiing. Second, it attempts to educate you on exactly what those "inherent" risks are.
For example, injuries caused by variations of weather, snow conditions, trees, bare spots, rocks, lift towers, and the list goes on and on. It lists pretty much every conceivable thing that you could possible be injured doing.
So how could a ski resorts be found liable if I agree to a contract that says they are not liable for almost everything?
Assumption of Risk & Negligence when Skiing
To understand the legal liability of ski areas you must first understand the basics of negligence and assumption of risk. This is a very simplistic overview, but should give you a basic idea.
A company or person is negligent when they have a duty to do something, they fail to perform that duty, and someone is injured. A quick example: A store has a duty to keep it's floor safe for customers. If something wet spills on the floor, the store has a duty to clean it up and warn you that the floor is slippery. This is why you always see those yellow tee-pees on the floor at the grocery store. If a store left water on the floor and you were injured, the store might be negligent.
Assumption of risk is a defense to negligence and it will limit or reduce the other parties liability. When a person voluntarily and knowingly assumes the risk associated with an activity, that person cannot complain when they are injured by one of those known risks. This is why the lift ticket attempts to define the exact risks that a skier is assuming. So if someone hits a patch of ice and breaks their leg, the ski area can point to the ticket and say, "you agreed to the fact that being injured as a result of snow conditions is an inherent risk in skiing."
If skiing is dangerous, and you agree to assume the risks of skiing, how can a ski area be liable?
When a Ski Resort Might be Liable for Skier Injuries
The easiest way to think about this is, "What type of risks DON'T you assume when skiing?" The first example I can think of is a chairlift malfunction. The ski resort has a duty to maintain and keep the chairlift in good, safe, working order. You don't assume the risk of being injured on the chairlift when you go skiing. If the chairlift were to jump off the wheels and you were injured, the ski resort would most likely be liable.
Another example would be a situation where the ski resort artificially creates a very dangerous situation. If say a grooming machine was parked or stopped around a blind corner. This is not a typical risk that you assume when skiing.
New Hampshire RSA 225-A:24
New Hampshire has adopted a law that codifies the assumption of risk doctrine specifically as it relates to skiing. ( NH RSA 225-A:24
) The New Hampshire ski industry is vital to the economy of northern NH. Laws like this one undoubtedly help control the rise of lift ticket prices due to personal injury litigation.
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