Resort officials don’t think liability waiver case will hurt business
DENVER – Liability waivers signed by parents do not protect ski resorts from lawsuits if children are injured due to negligence, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.
But the decision likely will not change legal matters pertaining to parental waivers, said James Chalet, an attorney who wrote a “friend of the court brief” in the case.
“There are very few cases this will touch upon,” Chalet said. “We see maybe one or two cases a year involving these circumstances.”
The case in question involved a 1995 accident on an Aspen ski race course in which David Cooper, then 17, lost control and crashed into a tree while training. He was blinded in the accident.
Both Cooper and his mother had signed a waiver prior to his training on the course to not seek damages in the event of an accident. But Cooper, who had been a member of the Aspen Valley Ski Club for nine years, filed a lawsuit against the Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Valley Ski Club and the U.S. Ski Association.
The state Supreme Court ruled Monday the waiver does not prevent Cooper from suing and ordered the case be returned to state district court for a trial. Essentially, the court said parents cannot waive their children’s rights. And Cooper, because he was a minor, could not waive those rights for himself, the court ruled.
This high court decision overturned a previous court ruling that Cooper could not sue because the waiver stated the club was not liable for injuries caused by negligence. A lower court also had upheld the ruling.
Chalet said the Supreme Court has shown waivers are “unenforceable” and should not be used by ski resorts and other recreational organizations.
“Waivers are a real risk because people don’t know what their rights are when they sign them,” said Chalet. “They’re often presented to parents after they’ve paid for something, and aren’t done in a context in which they can give it any thought. They should not be offered or demanded for parents to sign for their children.”
But Peter Rietz, an attorney for the U.S. Ski Association, said although parental waivers have never been binding nor enforceable, they are still useful “in a proactive sense.”
“They provide parents a warning and a list of risks involved. If a case did go to trial, the defendant can use the waiver to show people were put on notice,” said Rietz.
Vail Resorts, which currently requires parents to sign wavers before their children take ski lessons, has no plans to change its policy, said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain.
“We have always known that parental waivers don’t limit our liability,” said Jensen.
“They’re a way to make sure the customer is involved in a risky activity and also define our responsibility to parents. Waivers don’t prevent lawsuits, but can play an important role in the outcome of a lawsuit.”
The Aspen case will have “minimal impact” on Copper Mountain’s ski school waiver policies, said communications coordinator Beth Jahnigen.
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