There are inherent risks to any sport, and liability or injuries can belong to the individual participant, to manufacturers of sporting gear, or to owners of sport parks and arenas. This past spring, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether ski resorts are liable for ski injuries resulting from avalanches. In May, the court ruled that skiers do assume the risk of avalanches when they choose to participate in the sport.
The case was brought by Salynda Fleury, widow of Christopher Norris who died in January 2012 in an avalanche while skiing at the Winter Park Resort. Fleury, suddenly the sole supporter of an infant and toddler, filed a negligence and wrongful death case against Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corp. alleging that the park had a duty to close unsafe ski runs with high avalanche risks like the one her husband was on. In its ruling, the court noted that at the time of the accident, the snow at Intrawest was weak and unstable, and Norris was skiing on a steep slope. All of these factors are covered under Colorado State Law and keep liability on the skier.
In 1979, Colorado passed the Ski Safety Act to establish safety standards for ski run operators and the skiers who use them. In 1990, Colorado legislators updated the Act with a list of specific dangers that would be considered inherent risks of skiing. The Act establishes certain risks that skiers must assume themselves when they choose to ski, but it also gives ski runs responsibility over injuries from ski lifts and injuries caused by negligent operators. The Act also caps damages against ski resorts at $250,000.
The court’s ruling in Norris’ case and interpretation of this act will have an immediate effect on other cases. The same day Norris died, 13-year-old Taft Collins died in an avalanche at Vail Mountain. The resort says the teen strayed from designated routes, but his family disagrees. The case was on hold while the court considered the Norris case.
Last year about 35 skiers died from avalanches in the United States, a number that is more than double that of two decades ago. Almost all of the victims were skilled outdoor enthusiasts, many seeking a challenge on more difficult, back-country routes. Over 90% of these avalanches are self-triggered, and chances of survival are slim. After 5 minutes under the snow, a victim has an 80% chance of survival. After 15 minutes, it drops to a 10% chance of survival. After 30 minutes, the chances of survival are almost none. Back-country skiers can carry special equipment that allows them to breathe under banks of snow and helps rescuers locate them. Norris was not skiing on a back-country route.
If you or a loved one has suffered a ski accident at a resort, you may be eligible for compensation. Call our offices today to schedule a free consultation.