Skiing, snowboarding and tubing are popular and, oftentimes, dangerous activities. Each season, thousands of people hit the slopes in Pennsylvania. Inevitably, injuries occur and some are very serious. Nevertheless, the victims of such injuries rarely have any legal recourse available against the ski area, even if the owners or their employees were negligent in the design, maintenance or operation of the slopes. Two levels of protection normally prevent a lawsuit against the property owners: the Pennsylvania Skier’s Responsibility Act and Release of Liability Forms.
The Skier’s Responsibility Act
In 1980, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Skier’s Responsibility Act, which was specifically designed to prevent injured skiers from suing ski resorts. The Act recognizes that the sport of downhill skiing is inherently dangerous and that it attracts a large number of visitors to the State who contribute to the economy.
The Act indicates that Assumption of the Risk applies to skiing activities. The Doctrine of Assumption of the Risk states that someone who voluntarily engages in an activity known to be hazardous assumes the risk of being harmed and cannot seek compensation in Court if the harm actually occurs.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has determined that the Skier’s Responsibility Act will relieve a ski area owner of responsibility for injuries resulting from any activities involved in the sport of downhill skiing such as skiing down a hill, boarding the ski lift, riding the ski lift up the mountain and exiting the ski lift. Legal responsibility is precluded even if it is alleged that some carelessness on the part of the ski area owner caused the injury, such as improper opening of dangerously icy slopes or improper operation of a ski lift.
Release of Liability Forms
Winter recreation areas, especially those that include skiing, snowboarding and snow-tubing, are notorious for having patrons sign Release of Liability Forms. These forms usually include very broad terms which indicate that the patron is releasing the area from any potential claims arising out of injuries. The Pennsylvania Courts have held that if these forms are clearly written and the Release language is prominent (not in fine print or hidden from view), the terms will likely be upheld.
Because the Courts will likely find that if you signed a form, your signature is affirmation that you read it, understood it and agreed to its terms. It is important for you to actually read these forms to understand what rights you are signing away.
The bottom line is that, although these winter activities are dangerous and negligence on the part of the facility owners or employees can make the activities more hazardous, legal claims against the facilities are usually barred by the Skier’s Responsibility Act or by signed Release of Liability Forms.
The following article is informational only and not intended as legal advice. Speak with a licensed attorney about your own specific situation. © Copyright 2011 MacElree Harvey, Ltd. All rights reserved.
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