When Are Utah Ski Resorts Liable for Accidents and Injuries to Guests?

With its soaring mountain peaks amid the scenic Wasatch Range, Utah is one of the nation’s favorite winter sport destinations.  However, skiing can be a dangerous activity, and it’s easy for even experienced skiers to suffer serious injuries.  So who is responsible when a ski-related injury occurs?  The skier, or the resort where the accident took place?  In short, it depends on the circumstances.  The long answer, of course, is more detailed.  Salt Lake City skiing accident lawyer Darwin Overson examines Utah’s liability laws to explain when ski resorts are liable for guest injuries.

Do Liability Waivers Always Hold Up in Court?

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Facilities where people pay to participate in dangerous activities, such as skydiving drop zones and ski resorts, typically require guests to sign a liability waiver releasing the facility from liability in the event of injury or death.  However, the Supreme Court of Utah has issued varied rulings on such waivers.

For example, in one 2007 case, Berry v. Greater Park City Company, the Supreme Court of Utah ruled that plaintiff James Berry was barred from making a claim due to the provisions of a liability waiver he signed prior to his accident.  Yet several months later in Rothstein v. Snowbird, the Court held in a 3-2 decision that ski resort tourism was so vital to public policy that the waiver signed by plaintiff William Rothstein should be deemed unenforceable, despite containing the following language:

“I agree to assume and accept all risks of injury to myself and my guests, including the inherent risk of skiing, the risks associated with the operation of the ski area and risks caused by the negligence of Snowbird, its employees, or agents.”

Explaining the Court’s ruling, Justice Ronald E. Nehring wrote that “the release and indemnify agreements Mr. Rothstein signed per Snowbird’s request are contrary to the public policy of this state and are, therefore, unenforceable.”  In short, the Supreme Court in Rothstein upheld the victim’s right to sue for negligently-inflicted skiing injuries, despite the existence of a liability waiver, because enforcing the waiver would be detrimental to public interest.

However, Rothstein isn’t the end of the story, either.  The following year in Pearce v. Utah Athletic Foundation, the Supreme Court of Utah ruled that liability waivers are typically enforceable, absent the unique circumstances in Rothstein.  In Pearce, the Court held that “Pearce’s ordinary negligence claim is barred by the preinjury release that he signed because the release is not against public policy, it does not meet the public interest exception, and it is clear, unequivocal, and unambiguous.”

Notice the references to clarity and lack of ambiguity, which are essential elements of a preinjury release form.  If a liability waiver is ambiguous or unclear, it may not be enforceable.

So: if you’re wondering whether ski resort liability waivers always hold up in Utah’s courts, the answer is “generally, but with narrow exceptions.”  Liability waivers can make it impossible to sue recreational facilities – but only if they are considered enforceable.

Can You Sue a Ski Resort in Utah if You Are Injured?

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Let’s assume that a liability waiver signed by a ski resort guest is deemed unenforceable.  That’s helpful for the injury victim, but still does not necessarily guarantee that he or she has a case.

This may come as a surprise, but the Utah Code actually contains a statute that specifically deals with the issue of ski resort liability.  As explained by Utah Code § 78B-4-401, skiing is so vital to Utah’s economy – pulling in over $1 billion during the 2014/2015 season alone – that the Legislature has deemed it necessary “to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and the risks inherent in that sport.”

A related statute, Utah Code § 78B-4-403, flatly states that “no skier may make any claim against, or recover [compensation] from, any ski area operator for injury resulting from any of the inherent risks of skiing.”  However, there is an important exception: the statute does not prohibit injury victims from suing ski resorts if their injuries are caused by negligence.

To phrase it another way, you cannot sue if your injuries were caused by one of the hazards that Utah has decided are simply part of the sport (which is what is meant by “the inherent risks of skiing”).  However, you may be able to sue if your injuries were caused by careless acts on behalf of the ski resort or individual employees thereof.

The inherent risks of skiing are listed under Utah Code § 78B-4-402(1), and include:

  • Collisions with other skiers
  • Existing or changing snow and/or ice conditions (e.g. hard pack, slush)
  • Failure to ski within your own ability level
  • Impact with lift towers and other standing structures
  • Natural or artificial changes in slope steepness
  • Surface and subsurface conditions (e.g. rocks)
  • Training for, or participating in, events and competitions
  • Weather changes

Salt Lake City Skiing Accident Attorney Handling Claims Against Mountain Resorts

If you were injured in a skiing accident at one of Utah’s ski resorts, such as Alta Ski Area, Brighton Resort, Deer Valley Resort, Nordic Valley Ski Resort, Park City Mountain Resort, Powder Mountain Resort, Snowbasin Resort, Snowbird Ski Resort, or Solitude Mountain Resort, you should speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer to find out whether you could have a case.  Even if you signed a liability waiver, you may be able to recover compensation if your injuries occurred due to negligence.

Utah skiing injury lawyer Darwin Overson has over 33 years of experience fighting on behalf of accident victims.  To speak about your injury with Snowbird ski accident lawyer Darwin Overson in a free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143 as soon as possible.

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