“Skiing is a risky sport that causes many injuries.” Shukoski v. Indianhead Mountain Resort, Inc., 166 F.3d 848, 850 (6th Cir.1999). “[T]hose who participate in sports or amusement subjectively assume known risks of being hurt.” Codd v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 45 Wash.App. 393, 401, 725 P.2d 1008 (1986). In doing so, each participant impliedly “assumes the dangers that are inherent in and necessary to the particular sport or activity.” Scott, 119 Wash.2d at 501, 834 P.2d 6; see Codd, 45 Wash.App. at 402, 725 P.2d 1008, citing, Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 522-23, 984 P.2d 448, 450 (1999).
It’s no secret that skiing is one of my passions. In light of the way our Courts describe the sport above, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to ski, but there are so many reasons skiing is a great activity. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the mountains and get outside in the winter. It’s great exercise. It’s challenging. You can share the experience with friends and family. It’s also a lot of fun! Fortunately, skiing also intersects my career as a personal injury lawyer.
I have worked on a number of outdoor and recreational injury cases over the years. This area of personal injury law is one of my favorites. Some of the more interesting cases I have worked on have involved clients who were injured skiing. Many of these injuries were caused by collisions with other skiers. Due to a life spent on skis in the winter, I’ve become a subject matter expert on ski injuries.
Washington has a skier responsibility code like many other states. Its a found a RCW 79A.45.030. Here’s a link: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=79A.45&full=true#79A.45.030 Skiers should know this well before heading out of the hill. The skier responsibility code outlines the rules of the road for skiers on the mountain as well as the responsibilities ski area operators owe to their guests. If there’s a collision between skiers, the responsibility code usually settles who is responsible.
There is a common misconception that ski resorts are generally immune from liability for hazards on the hill. While the skier responsibility code places the primary duty on the skier to avoid other skiers and objects, resorts are not relieved of their duty to make the area safe for ordinary use. In fact, our Courts rejected the argument that the responsibility code per se immunizes ski areas from liability, holding “resort operators remain liable for latent conditions of tracks, trails, and runs that result from operator-negligence, even though an injured skier’s recovery may be reduced if he or she fails to maintain control and thereby collides with an object where the extent of the risk of injury is not known or obvious.” Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 525, 984 P.2d 448, 451-52 (1999).
Washington’s ski statute (RCW 79A.45) “modifies, but is generally consistent with, the common law.” Codd, 45 Wash.App. at 397, 725 P.2d 1008; accord Scott, 119 Wash.2d at 500, 834 P.2d 6. Although the statute imposes both primary and secondary duties on skiers, it “does not purport to relieve ski operators from all liability for their own negligence.” Scott, 119 Wash.2d at 500, 834 P.2d 6; accord Codd, 45 Wash.App. at 400, 725 P.2d 1008. Further, ski resorts owe a duty to skiers, who are business invitees, to provide “reasonably safe facilities.” Scott, 119 Wash.2d at 502, 834 P.2d 6. The resorts must “discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the invitees, unless it is known or obvious.” Id. at 500, 834 P.2d 6; see also Codd, 45 Wash.App. at 400, 725 P.2d 1008 (explaining that a ski resort has a duty to warn skiers of latent hazards). The rationale for this rule is that invitees are reasonably expected to discover and protect themselves from known or obvious dangers. See prosser and Keeton § 61, at 427. see Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 524, 984 P.2d 448, 451 (1999).
The implication of all this is that our courts have let cases move forward arising out of a wide variety of situations where injuries have occurred on the slopes.
In the next couple of blogs, I’ll explore some of the of the cases that are pushing the boundaries of personal injury law on the mountain. In the meantime: Pray for Snow!