CAN YOU SUE A SKI RESORT?
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Though filing a lawsuit is the last thing that skiers may have on their mind while at a ski resort, but injuries can quickly derail a skiing trip. After all, skiing accidents are not infrequent. If you get into a skiing accident, you may wonder what your options are and whether you can sue the ski resort.
When can you sue a ski resort?
Failure of Ski Resort to Maintain Safe Premises
On the slope
Ski resorts must make their premises are safe for visitors. Ski resorts cannot always waive this duty. Thus, ski resorts must make sure that their slopes, ski lifts, and other equipment are properly maintained. If a ski resort, for example, fails to check its ski lifts for any defects for a year, and one day a chair of the ski lift falls on skiers below, the injured skiers may have a viable lawsuit. Another example of a lawsuit arising from a ski resort failing to maintain safe premises is by the ski resort failing to remove dangerous hazards on the slope. If the ski resort knows or should have known that there are tree stumps on a popular trail but fails to remove them and a skier ends up tripping over the stump, the ski resort can be sued.
However, you should realize that ski resorts only are responsible for injuries that occur on their premises. If a skier decides to ski beyond the boundaries of the ski resort and injuries himself or herself, the ski resort would not be liable. Furthermore, a ski resort may not be liable even if the skier was on the premises of the resort if the skier was a trespasser. But there is an exception to this exception in some states. If the ski resort knows that there are dangerous conditions on its premises, the ski resort must make sure that even trespassers are aware of the dangerous conditions. If not, even a trespasser can sue a ski resort if they were injured by the dangerous conditions.
In recreational facilities
Do not think that a ski resort is only liable for what happens on the slope. If the ski resort owns restaurants or other recreational facilities and you suffer an injury there, you may also have a viable lawsuit against the ski resort.
The Assumption of Risk Defense Ski Resorts Use
Skiing and snowboarding are considered to be inherently dangerous activities. Because of this, ski resorts will generally make you sign a waiver that they will not be liable if you get injured on their premises. If a ski resort successfully uses this defense, you may not be able to recover any compensation.
An example of an assumption of risk defense is as follows:
Imagine that you are skiing, and you end up simply spraining your ankle by accident. Furthermore, the sprain was not because of any direct fault of the ski resort. For instance, the sprain did not occur because the ski resort failed to remove hazards that made you sprain your ankle in the process of avoiding the hazards. In such cases, the ski resort may have a successful assumption of risk defense. The ski resort would argue that skiing is a dangerous activity and because you voluntarily participated in it, the ski resort should not be at fault for your sprain.
You should be aware that the assumption of risk defense works successfully when the injury is something that is associated with the activity itself. For example, it can be easy to conceptualize that an ankle sprain can occur while skiing. On the other hand, if you were injured because while you were skiing, one of the chairs of a ski lift fell on you because it was poorly maintained by the resort, the ski resort would not be as likely to have a successful assumption of risk defense.
Read More: Are Colorado Ski Resorts Open? Safety Tips
Legal Basis of Ski Resort Lawsuits
Like most personal injury lawsuits, ski resort lawsuits are based on the legal theory of negligence. The legal concept of negligence simply means that the defendant or the party that you are suing acted below the standard of care the defendant should have upheld. In the context of a ski resort lawsuit, for instance, you would argue that the ski resort acted below its standard of care by failing to maintain a safe premises.
If a ski resort employee causes your accident because of his or her negligent behavior, you may still sue the ski resort as well. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, an employer can be liable for its employees’ actions even if it did not directly cause the accident itself. To illustrate, imagine that a ski resort operator tells you that it is safe to go down a slope even though he or she knows or should have known that there were hazardous conditions on the slope. In any case, you go down the slope and you trip on one of the hazardous objects. Though you could sue the ski resort operator, you would probably not do so since the ski resort operator likely does not have the money to compensate you for your injuries. Rather, you can directly sue the ski resort as the employer of the operator even though the ski resort as a whole had nothing to do with the accident. You are essentially suing the resort as if it was responsible for the accident the ski operator caused.
The end goal of a personal injury lawsuit is to receive compensation, or damages. The compensation or damages you receive is meant to recover any of your economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are those that are objectively calculable. For instance, lost wages as a result of an accident would be an example of an economic loss. Non-economic losses are less easy to calculate. An example of a non-economic loss would be the amount of pain you are in after the skiing accident.
Some injured skiers may think they have no chance of having a lawsuit because they signed a waiver at the ski resort. However, you should be aware that even if you signed a waiver, you may nevertheless be able to sue the ski resort where your injury occurred.
Even if a ski resort makes you sign a waiver, the waiver itself may be unenforceable if they are unconscionable. There are two types of unconscionable waivers: procedurally unconscionable waivers and substantively unconscionable waivers. However, a waiver can be both procedurally and substantively unconscionable.
An example of a procedurally unconscionable waiver is a waiver that is given to you in such a manner that you would not read it. For instance, imagine that you go to a ski resort and before you are able to ski, the ski resort gives you a waiver document that is dozens of pages long with extremely small font. Because this would deter people from reading the waiver document in an extremely unjust way, this kind of waiver would be a procedurally unconscionable waiver.
An example of a substantively unconscionable waiver is a waiver that has conditions in the waiver that are extremely unfair. For instance, it is one thing for a ski resort waiver to state that it is not liable for any injuries that occur due to the skier’s fault, but it is another story if the waiver says it will not be liable for any injuries. A waiver that says that it will not be liable even if a ski resort operator maliciously and purposely injuries visitors would not likely be enforceable.
Waivers may be implied
Some plaintiffs may think that because they did not sign a waiver at a ski resort that they will be able to sue a ski resort for the injuries received at the resort. However, sometimes waivers are implied upon the moment you buy a pass to the resort. For instance, many ski resorts have admission tickets that state that they are not liable for injuries. In these cases, you are “signing” a waiver by purchasing the ticket, not by physically signing a waiver document.
Do I Need a Ski Accident Lawyer?
Because of the catastrophic injuries skiing and snowboarding accidents can cause, you may wish to have an experienced lawyer as you will want the best representation to get the maximum compensation possible. Remember that a skiing accident can lead to serious economic and non-economic losses. You may not only lose the ability to work, but also the ability to enjoy life as you once had before.
CONTACT A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
If you are wondering whether you can sue a ski resort for a skiing or snowboarding injury, the experienced Denver attorneys at Zinda Law Group may be able to help you with your personal injury claim. After an accident, you shouldn’t have to worry about affording legal representation, which is why we work on a contingency fee basis. You don’t owe us anything unless we win your case.