Determining liability in ski accidents is difficult because alpine skiing is an intrinsically dangerous sport. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, with jurisdiction over Utah, recently ruled on whether a stump hidden by newly-fallen snow is an inherent risk and the resort which created the stump should be held liable for skiing accidents.
Jackson Hole accident
The accident victim and his fiancé vacationed at Jackson Hole in Jan. 2017 when 45 inches of snow fell over that area for over four days. The couple bought a ski pass with a liability disclaimer where they were required to accept inherent risks and hazards.
They went skiing in an off-piste in a ski area on the resort that was not maintained with equipment. The victims’ right ski hit the top of a 6½ stump hidden by snow.
This impact caused many injuries. He suffered multiple fractures requiring surgery, a bone graft, and the insertion of 14 screws and two metal plates. After surgery, there were additional complications that prevented him from working.
The couple had to sell their online apparel business. He continues to have physical impairment from the leg trauma.
The victim filed a negligence lawsuit in Wyoming’s federal district court for losses caused by the resort’s alleged negligence. His wife filed for loss of consortium or harm to their relationship.
The tree stump played a major part in pre-trial discovery. Jackson Hole’s risk safety and environmental manager admitted that the tree was cut but he did not know who cut it or when it was cut. The manager said that leaving the stump at over six feet would likely lower a winter hazard.
The court granted summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit before trial. The judge found that the skier’s injury did not result from negligence but came from the inherent risk of fresh snow covering a tree stump.
Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal to the 10th Circuit which upheld the trial court’s ruling.
The appeals court expressed sympathy for the plaintiff’s severe and painful injuries. But the court found that managing trees is necessary for creating and upkeeping ski runs and the most ski-able terrain could not exist without the care of forest managers and sawyers.
The court also ruled that holding Jackson Hole responsible for removing stumps or cutting trees to certain levels would deter resorts from trying to mitigate skiing hazards. According to the court, a resort may leave a fallen tree in an off-piste area instead of cutting it and being held liable for cutting it below the break.
Each accident has its own facts and circumstances, however. Attorneys can help ski accident victims pursue compensation.