Federal court says waivers are enough to keep ski resorts from being sued over injuries | SummitDaily.com

Federal court says waivers are enough to keep ski resorts from being sued over injuries

Randy Wyrick
rwyrick@vaildaily.com

Dr. Teresa Brigance broke her femur during a 2015 accident on Keystone's Discovery lift. The federal 10th Circult Court of Appeals ruled that the waivers on the lift ticket that Brigance bought and the ski school waiver she signed were enough to protect Vail Resorts from being sued

DENVER — A federal appeals court ruled that skiing is voluntary, not a necessity, and that the waiver on the back of your lift ticket and your ski lesson waiver is all a ski company needs to keep you from suing them if you're injured.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Dr. Teresa Brigance could not sue Vail Summit Resorts for her broken femur. By signing her ski school waiver and by buying a lift ticket, she was barred from suing the ski company for a broken femur during a ski lesson at Keystone.

In dismissing her claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit concluded in a ruling issued Monday, Jan. 8, that "the waiver that Dr. Brigance signed before participating in her ski lesson, as well as the waiver contained on the back of her lift ticket, are enforceable and bar claims against Vail Summit Resorts Inc."

Brigance suffered her broken femur while trying to unload from the Discovery lift, a beginner chair in Keystone.

“Giving blanket immunity to ski areas for injuries to guests sets a dangerous precedent.”Joe Blochattorney for Teresa Brigance

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"Vail Resorts is in agreement with the ruling earlier this week by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and believes this was a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision, consistent with well-settled Colorado law," Vail Resorts said in a statement. "The company continues to place the highest value on the safety of its guests and, as such, complies with all industry safety standards. As with many recreational activities, there are risks involved with skiing and snowboarding."

Joe Bloch, Brigance's attorney, disagreed.

"Giving blanket immunity to ski areas for injuries to guests sets a dangerous precedent," Bloch said. "This should be very concerning to the millions of skiers and snowboarders who frequent Colorado's resorts every year, as they may have little or no recourse whatsoever if they are injured on the mountain, even if the ski area is negligent."

Keystone's Discovery lift

The whole thing started on March 23, 2015, when Brigance was part of a beginner ski lesson in Keystone. Bloch said the instructor had not completed Keystone's ski instructor training courses.

After several "magic carpet" rides, the class was taught to load and unload from the lift chair and headed up Keystone's Discovery lift, a beginner lift.

Bloch said that as Brigance was unloading, her left ski boot became lodged between the chair and the ground in the unloading area, preventing her from standing up.

Bloch alleged that the lift operator did not stop the lift, but only slowed it, and that the chair continued to move forward with Brigance's leg still trapped under it. Brigance said she heard her left leg "snap," as her left femur broke. She was hospitalized for a week, Bloch said.

Bloch also alleged in the lawsuit that Brigance, an orthodontist based in Florida, was hit with $238,399 in medical bills, lost $134,000 in income and would lose $1.9 million in future income.

However, the case did not get to trial in U.S. District Court. The federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit two months before the trial, ruling that the waiver on the back of Brigance's lift ticket, as well as a ski school waiver, barred Brigance's claims.

Brigance appealed the ruling to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the lower court.

Legal precedent

Citing several legal precedents, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that skiing is "recreational," and not "practically necessary," and therefore does "not rise to the level of essential public service contemplated by Colorado law." The court also ruled that if a person voluntarily enters into a contract for recreational services, such as skiing and ski lessons, that person is not "at the mercy" of the business.

"The ski and ski lesson services offered by (Vail Summit Resorts Inc.) are recreational in nature and do not constitute essential services or matters of practical necessity," the court ruled.

The court pointed out that the waiver on a lift ticket states that the ticket holder "agrees to assume all risks, inherent and otherwise" and to "hold the ski area harmless for claims to person and property."

Staff writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.