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stefan
12-19-2007, 09:47 AM
High court ruling
Waivers can't stop skier suits
By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune


Ski resorts took a nasty fall Tuesday when the Utah Supreme Court ruled waivers can't prevent injured skiers from suing the resorts for negligence.

Barring those suits is not in the best interests of society, the court said.

The ruling will benefit both skiers and resorts, said Jesse Trentadue, the lawyer for a Utahn who sued after being seriously injured on the slopes at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort in February 2003.

"It encourages [ski resort operators] to be safer in their operations and that, in turn, will encourage more people to ski in Utah," Trentadue said.

He added the ruling brings Utah in line with Colorado and Vermont, which have big ski industries and have found liability releases to be void.

Snowbird President Bob Bonar declined comment through a spokeswoman, citing the lawsuit's ongoing nature now that the Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision dismissing the case.

Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty also declined to speak about the ruling. Ski Utah is the marketing arm for the state's 13 active resorts.

In its 3-2 opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the Utah Inherent Risks of Skiing Act was meant to protect ski resorts from being sued over dangers routinely involved in the sport - thus making insurance affordable. However, the legislation still holds them accountable for negligent acts, the majority of justices said.

Lawmakers expressly said the act's sole reason was to allow ski area operators to get insurance at reasonable rates, Justice Ronald Nehring said. In doing so, he noted, they addressed the question of whether the operators "are at liberty to use pre-injury releases to significantly pare back or even eliminate their need to purchase the very liability insurance the Act was designed to make affordable."

"They are not," Nehring wrote for the majority.

The opinion marked the second time in recent years the high court has ruled against the enforceability of waivers. In 2001, the justices ruled parents do not have an inherent right to sign away a minor child's right to sue for damages.

Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins and Justice Matthew Durrant dissented Tuesday, saying there is nothing in the act that stops the resorts from limiting their liability through waivers.

The high court's ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by William Rothstein, who challenged the validity of the waivers. Nearly five years ago, Rothstein slammed against a retaining wall off the Fluffy Bunny run at Snowbird.

The 50-year-old expert skier - who suffered 12 broken ribs, a decimated kidney, bruised heart, damaged liver and collapsed lung - filed a negligence suit against the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort, claiming the wall was covered with snow and unmarked.

Snowbird denied any fault and said Rothstein skied off a cat track marked with a rope line used as a warning to skiers.

The resort's lawyers also pointed out that Rothstein could have skied on a day pass without signing a release. Instead, they said, he waived his ability to sue for alleged negligence when he bought two passes, including one that entitled him to bypass lift lines for faster access to the slopes.

Citing the agreements, a 3rd District Court judge found in favor of the resort in 2006 and dismissed the negligence claims. Rothstein appealed to the Supreme Court, whose ruling revives his lawsuit.

ericchile
12-19-2007, 12:24 PM
While I think the skier should loose the case (from the facts I have read)... I think the supreme court is right in that ski resorts should not be immune from negligence suits.

TreeHugger
12-20-2007, 06:44 AM
I think I agree. I just dont feel they should every lose a suit, unless it was truely a case of negligence, which it doesnt sound like it was in this case. People have to have some accoutability and responsibility for their own actions when pursuing activities that are inherently risky and not assume they can just sue the pants off of whatever resort (or whatever the place may be) because they screw up and get hurt.