For many years, both Pennsylvania Law as well as Case Law have come down on the side of the Commonwealth’s ski resorts for both legal and economic/business reasons. In general, this is when someone is participating in downhill skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing and various activities such as boarding and unboarding of ski lifts, etc., there have been ways the assumption of risk doctrine is applied when someone is injured because of the inherent risks of these activities. Overall, the law makes it difficult for a injured Plaintiff to succeed in a case against the ski resorts in any of these areas.
Various Pennsylvania courts have expounded in essence a list of inherent risks to which assumption of the risk is a applied, including the following:
- Skiing back to the chair lift at the bottom of a slope and colliding with another skier;
- Alight from a ski lift;
- Being struck by a ski lift chair;
- Sliding under a plastic-web orange hazard fence on an icy double-black diamond slope;
- Colliding with a ski lift line corral after a ski cathces on a ice patch;
- Failure by staff of a ski resort to set netting in all a pots where it might prove necessary and fix a race course in a way that minimizes the potential for the competitors to lose control;
- Colliding with a fence post;
- Allegedly defective ski equipment when implied warranties are properly disclaimed and no express warranties exist;
- Choosing to ski despite hazard;
- Icy patches that cause skiers to veer off course and into structures;
- Skiing in the inclement and “dangerous weather”; and
- Colliding with a ski left while attempting to help another individual board a chair
However, there are exceptions to this. Pennsylvania Courts have held that a person does not assume the risk of another’s negligence as a matter of law when the participants are engaging in a non competitive, non contact recreational activity. Therefore, there can be circumstances where an injured party can sue, participating in these events. Courts have held that a ski lift operator could be found negligent for leaving a chair lift seat in the up position. Also, a skier does not assume the inherent risk of being struck on the slopes by an intoxicated teenager, and such a risk is not an inherent risk of the sport of downhill skiing. It has further been ruled that a claim can be made against a ski resort for failing to have ski patrol remove intoxicated persons from the slope. There could be claims made for other properly alleged acts of negligence which would go beyond the areas where the assumption of the risk doctrine may apply.
However, skiers, snowboarders and snowtubers be warned that if you are injured during the participation of any of those events in Pennsylvania, that the likelihood of prevailing in a lawsuit is minimal, unless your matter fits within one of the exceptions to the assumption of the risk.