The deep of winter has arrived – another polar vortex is aiming for Massachusetts, snow covers the ground, and some days the temperature is off the charts cold. Despite the winter chill and winter weather, many of us on the North Shore welcome and enjoy the winter months because it is a prime time to grab our snowboard or skis and head out to one of Massachusetts’ outstanding ski areas.
Ice covered or snowy road conditions mean we need to drive prudently as we head to the slopes. Once at the mountain, the fun begins. Hot chocolate, rosy cheeks and fresh air! However, schushing down the slopes or even back up the mountain on a lift can be dangerous. The Massachusetts Ski Safety Act was enacted in 1978 because of the risks inherent in skiing (and snowboarding) – its purpose is to “increase skier safety by ‘requiring operators to implement greater safety precautions.'” Eipp v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 154 F. Supp. 2d 100 (D. Mass. 2001). New Hampshire also has a similar statute to protect skiers and snowboarders. N.H. Rev. Stat. § 225-A.
The Ski Safety Act requires that ski areas be operated in a “reasonably safe manner” but the resort will “not be liable for damages …” to skiers or snowboarders “which arise out of the risks inherent in the sport.” M.G.L. ch. 143 § 71N(6). Both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Laws recognize the inherent risk from skiing or snowboarding, that there will be variations in terrain and conditions and that the skier should be responsible in many situations.
For example, Kristina Tamirova went snowboarding at Bretton Woods Ski Resort and while snowboarding down a trail, she was “bumped by another skier or boarder” and lost control of her snowboard. Kristina slid under a rope with orange ribbons attached to it and into a ditch. She suffered serious injuries because of her fall. Kristina could not sue Bretton Woods for her injuries because the ditch was part of a brook bed and “a brook bed is a physical feature of the land and therefore part of the variations in terrain of the slope and a risk inherent in the sport.” Tamirova v. Omni Hotels Management Corp., SUCV 2010-02767 (Mass. Cmmw. 2012) (emphasis added).
However, Kristina may have been able to sue the snowboarder or skier who bumped into her, causing her to fall, if that person had been skiing or snowboarding in a reckless or careless manner. If someone crashes into you while skiing, be sure to get their name and personal information and the contact information for any witnesses. The Ski Safety Act requires that you exchange personal identification or that he or she clearly identifies himself or herself. M.G.L ch. 143 § 71Q.
In the Jason Eipp case, Jason was skiing on a black diamond or double black diamond trail at Jiminy Peak when he hit two bumps, became unbalanced, fell and crashed into a snowgun. He suffered serious injuries including: cardiac arrest, a broken neck, and two broken ribs. The Court found that Jiminy Peak did not have the proper warning and caution signs in place that would alert skiers to the presence of the snowgun as required by the Ski Safety Act; therefore Jason’s injuries were outside the limitations of the Ski Safety Act and he was permitted to sue Jiminy Peak for his injuries. Eipp v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 154 F. Supp. 2d 100 (D. Mass. 2001).
If you have been injured while skiing or snowboarding this winter, speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can evaluate whether you have a claim against the resort, another skier or snowboarder, or other third party and perhaps get past the Ski Safety Act to pursue recovery for your injuries. Your lawyer will also make sure you meet crucial deadlines. The Ski Safety Act requires that a Resort be notified of an accident in which it may be responsible within 90 days of the accident and any lawsuit against the Resort must be filed within one year. M.G.L. 143 § 71P
Enjoy the slopes and happy skiing and riding!
The Ski Safety Act can be found at M.G.L 143, §§ 71I – 71R