Skiing Accidents in Pennsylvania
In two cases that illustrate the complexity of Pennsylvania law on ski injuries, a skier who was injured when he was struck from behind by a snowboarder successfully sued a Pennsylvania ski resort, but a skier injured when a lift operator accidentally disregarded her request for help was barred from suing the resort.
Skier vs. Snowboarder
The skier injured by the snowboarder avoided the liability limits of the Act, however, by focusing on the snowboarder’s alcohol consumption. The injured skier claimed that the snowboarder was part of a high school group whose drinking in the parking lot and on the slopes was obvious and should have been controlled or prevented by the resort. Moreover, the injured skier claimed that the resort was generally aware of alcohol abuse by high school groups at the resort. The Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed that the injured skier was entitled to his day in court. The court found that intoxicated snowboarders are not an inherent risk of downhill skiing. At trial, the injured skier will have to prove that the resort had reason to know that patrons were consuming alcohol while using the resort’s ski facilities and that the resort was careless in responding to the problem.
Fall from Chair Lift
The other injured skier did not fare as well with the courts. She was injured when she fell from a moving chair lift. Concerned that her six-year-old nephew would have difficulty boarding a high-speed chair lift, the woman asked the chair operator to slow the lift as she boarded with the child. The operator could not slow the chair because it ran at only one speed, but he suggested that he could stop the lift twice–once to permit the woman and child to approach the boarding area and, again, just before they boarded the chair.
The operator stopped the lift, and the woman and child moved into its path, but the operator failed to stop the chair a second time. The woman managed to board the moving chair, but the child struggled. As the chair left the boarding area, the child was not properly seated, and he began to slip off of the chair. The woman tried to help the child, but both of them fell from the moving chair outside the boarding area. The child was uninjured, but the woman suffered serious shoulder and hip injuries.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the woman’s claims, relying on the Act’s “no-duty” rule. The court noted that the sport of downhill skiing encompasses more than merely skiing down a hill. It includes all activities directly and necessarily incident to the act of downhill skiing. Such activities include boarding the ski lift, riding the lift up the mountain, alighting from the lift, skiing from the lift to the trail, and, after a run has been completed, skiing toward the ski lift to start another run or skiing toward the base lodge or other facility at the end of the day.
As to the operator’s failure to stop the chair the second time, the court concluded that the woman boarded the chair in the face of a well-known and obvious danger, and that she did so safely. Her efforts to help her nephew, while admirable, were the cause of her injuries. With the exception of injuries caused by other intoxicated skiers, Pennsylvania courts consistently dismiss skiers’ lawsuits against ski resorts. Skiers simply must expect to assume all risks of any kind directly associated with skiing.