Can A Ski Resort Be Held Liable For Personal Injury?

Every year, thousands of skiers hit the slopes at nearly 500 ski resorts and at ski lodges in 39 states. At almost every one of these lodges and resorts, skiers will find a number of signs posted to warn them of the possible hazards. And in fact, most skiers at lodges and resorts receive liability waivers that are usually printed on the back of their lift tickets. While the exact number of sprains, torn ligaments, and broken bones sustained by skiers cannot be known, about forty ski-related fatalities and another forty serious injuries (such as paralysis or severe head trauma) happen to skiers in the U.S. every year.

If you become injured at a ski resort, your rights and recourse will depend on how you were injured. If you are injured while skiing or snowboarding because another skier or snowboarder was negligent, you may be able to file a personal injury claim against that person. In Colorado, this state’s Ski Safety Act creates legal obligations for both skiers and for lodge and resort operators. Skiers in this state, including sledders and snowboarders, have a legal obligation to use caution and to ski within their abilities. Failure to meet these obligations constitutes negligence.

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If your ski resort injury has some other cause, your legal rights are probably going to be quite limited. Most states with established ski industries have adopted and now enforce laws that keep a skier or snowboarder from suing a ski resort when an accident happens due to the “natural and inherent” risks of skiing. Each state’s law is worded differently, but these laws protect ski lodges and resorts from the claims of negligence that are typically part of a personal injury lawsuit. Ski lodges and resorts cannot be sued for injuries involving:

  • collisions between skiers
  • skiing outside of a designated area
  • how the ski resort’s trails are laid out
  • whether or not the resort recently groomed the trails

UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN A SKI LODGE OR RESORT BE SUED?

Some states also have adopted laws that require warning signs on ski trails, first-aid training for ski lodge and resort personnel, and other reasonable safety measures. Can you sue a lodge or a resort if you are injured while skiing because the lodge or resort wasn’t in compliance with a state safety regulation? Like so much else in the law, it will depend on the details and particulars of the case. If you are injured at a ski resort in Colorado, discuss what happened with an experienced Denver personal injury attorney. Don’t just assume that you don’t have a personal injury claim.

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Ski lodges and resorts in Colorado gained even more protection from liability under Colorado law when the Ski Safety Act was amended in 2004. Resorts and lodges were previously protected from lawsuits arising from circumstances and actions that are an “integral part” of the sport. The 2004 amendments changed that language to include circumstances and actions that are merely “a part” of the sport.

WHAT ABOUT NON-SKIING INJURIES AT SKI RESORTS?

By including factors that may not be “integral” to skiing, since 2004 the Ski Safety Act could conceivably be interpreted to include virtually any injury that might happen at a ski lodge or resort. And in fact, the amendments expanded ski area operator protections to include all of a lodge’s or resort’s property and not merely those areas set aside for skiing. But what if you slip and break your leg in a dining area because no one cleaned up a spilled drink? Is a ski resort really exempt from precisely the same kind of personal injury claim you might file if the incident happened in a restaurant or a nightclub?

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If sustain an injury at a ski lodge or resort while away from the slopes in an accident entirely unrelated to skiing – like slipping on a wet floor in a dining area – the lodge or resort may be liable just like any other commercial establishment. For example, if you trip and you’re injured on a sidewalk or anywhere indoors, the lodge or resort may be liable if you and your attorney can prove that you were injured because of negligence.

WHAT ABOUT COLLISIONS WITH OTHER SKIERS?

When two skiers collide, one is not necessarily liable to the other for damages. Before any personal injury claim can be filed against a skier, there must be evidence of fault or negligence. If a skier or a snowboarder does not perform in a reasonably safe manner and collides with you, he or she may be found negligent if you’re injured. But precisely what constitutes negligence on the part of any particular skier?

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A Denver personal injury attorney might refer to the “Skier Responsibility Code,” a brief set of guidelines the ski industry uses to promote safety. Lodges and resorts have copies of the Skier Responsibility Code posted everywhere on signs and even on napkins. If a skier causes an injury while violating the Skier Responsibility Code, it’s evidence of negligence. The Skier Responsibility Code includes these recommendations for avoiding skiing collisions:

  • Stay in control. Be able to stop and to avoid people and objects.
  • Do not stop where you are not visible or where you block a trail.
  • It’s your responsibility to avoid skiers in front of you. They have the right of way.
  • When merging into a trail or starting downhill, look uphill and yield to other skiers.

A skiing collision is handled legally like a traffic accident. Sometimes neither party is legally negligent, but if another skier or snowboarder acts negligently and you are injured as a result of that negligence, you are entitled to compensation that includes all of your medical costs, your lost earnings and lost earning capacity, and all other expenses associated with the accident. However, compensation isn’t just handed to injury victims. If another skier injures you, you’ll have to prove first that you were injured and secondly that the other skier’s negligence is the reason why.

What makes skiing collisions legally different from auto accidents? Obviously, automobile insurance doesn’t cover collisions on the slopes, although some homeowners’ insurance policies will cover these kinds of injuries. However, if a skier who collides with you has no insurance at all and no significant assets, an attorney may advise you that a lawsuit is going to be a futile gesture. Once again, like so much in the law, “it depends.”

If you ski this winter, become familiar with the Skier Responsibility Code and adhere to its suggestions. Observe all posted warning signs, know how to use a ski lift, and consider using a helmet; the most serious skiing injuries are head injuries, and head injuries are the cause of most of the forty or so skiing fatalities every year. Pace yourself and don’t try to ski at the end of the day when it’s colder, darker, and you’re more fatigued. Be reasonably cautious, and you’ll probably have a genuinely great time skiing in Colorado this winter.

By: Dallas Norton

Dallas Norton, the founding partner of Norton & Bowers, has practiced law with a focus on personal injury since 1992. Mr. Norton has extensive Colorado roots including grade school in Arvada and high school in Denver. He earned his J.D. from Brigham Young University Law School in 1991. When working on behalf of clients, Mr. Norton draws upon his extensive background in psychology and human resources.