Many skiers hit the slopes without much thought to whether they signed a waiver releasing ski area operators from responsibility for negligence. But when that skier is injured because the ski area violates specific provisions of the Ski Safety Act does the statute govern are does the waiver trump the statutory duties?
Skiers and snowboarders sign broad liability waivers when they purchase season passes. Under most season pass waivers, pass holders give up their rights to sue for negligence – “expressly ASSUME ALL RISKS associated with Holder’s participation in the Activity, known or unknown, inherent or otherwise … ”
Last month Pitkin County District Court Judge Denise Lynch ruled that the waiver doesn’t protect the Aspen Skiing Company from claims made by Ryan Bradley, who was injured Feb. 20, 2010 when he was hit by a jake table, installed on a chairlift to transport injured skiers. Bradley alleged to the court that the lift operators were cooking hotdogs and not paying attention to the loading zone when he was injured by the jake table. He brought claims of negligence per se against the ski area, alleging that the resort violated its statutory obligations under the Ski Safety Act.
The Aspen Skiing Company asked to have the case be dismissed, claiming that the waiver language releases the resort from all claims. Though Colorado courts have a long history of upholding waivers, the judge rejected the argument and set a Sept. 17 trial date. This is the second trial court, both located in Colorado ski country, to rule that the Ski Safety Act controls.
In a previous case involving a collision between a skier and a resort employee on a snowmobile, Summit County District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle ruled in Dec. 2009 that Vail Resorts couldn’t waive its liability for its employees negligence per se.
In the Keystone case, the court was also asked to address the issue of how far the waivers go in absolving resorts of liability. Ruckriegle ruled that the the Colorado Snowmobile Act — similar to the Ski Safety Act, “imposes duties upon individuals,” and that those duties cannot be contractually waived; and that, further, “it would be against public policy to allow an employer to contractually avoid liability for an employee’s negligence per se.”