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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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You May Be Waiving Your Rights by the Fine Print on Your Ski Lift Ticket

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To obtain protection from lawsuits, many ski resorts rely on liability waivers. These waivers offer broad protection by requiring skiers and snowboarders to agree to release liability for accident claims. You either agree to release the resort’s liability, or you don’t get to buy a pass. In essence, you sign away your rights to sue for negligence, no matter what happens.

Last December, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled a Mt. Bachelor release agreement was overly broad and that the resort was potentially liable for a severe injury that paralyzed a skier after a fall in a terrain park in 2006. Mt. Bachelor was not found at fault, but the Supreme Court decision gave the victim a chance to argue in court that the resort was at least partially negligent. The court ruled that if ski resorts can never be held liable for minimizing “unreasonable risks,” then there’s no incentive to eliminate the risks. In simple terms, the Supreme Court said, “Liability breeds responsibility, and immunity breeds impunity.” The ruling upended a system Oregon resorts relied on since 1979. The lawsuit seeks $21.5 million.

After the ruling, the ski industry sought two bills, Senate Bill 849 and House Bill 3512, seeking more protection and helping ski resorts avoid lawsuits. The bills would make broad liability waivers enforceable in court; skiers and snowboarders injured in a terrain park would assume all risk; the resort could not be held liable unless proven to be an intentional act by their staff or for “gross negligence.” All avalanches and falls into tree wells would be covered as well.

Last week, the House Bill failed, and it is likely the Senate bill will not get a hearing before tomorrow’s deadline. Without the liability waiver, ski resorts would be forced to litigate each case brought by an injured skier or snowboarder, even if it ultimately proved it was not negligent. Now the industry is discussing how to adopt new release agreements to address some of the issues addressed by the court. In the meantime, they said skiers would see an increase in lift prices as soon as next season if they aren’t shielded from lawsuits.

Ski resort cannot alienate themselves completely from the liability of injuries that happen at their facilities. While the 1979 law declared skiing an inherently risky activity, therefore shielding resorts from liability in most instances, opponents say this has afforded resorts too much freedom. This lack of liability can promote unsafe and dangerous conditions beyond “an inherently risky activity.” While some factors in ski injuries are beyond the control of the ski resort and its operators, they should not be able to shirk liability for man-made equipment or enhancements to the slope. Mistakes happen (some preventable), but shifting blame to the skier will not improve safety. We need to hold ski resorts accountable beyond a waiver on the back of a ski lift ticket.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.