State law protects West Virginia skiers by specifically requiring slope operators to take certain steps to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition. As a recent case out of the Supreme Court shows, however, those obligations are limited, and skiers of all ages assume some of the risk that comes with hitting the slopes.
JW was 12 years old when she was injured in a skiing accident at the Timberline resort in Davis, W.V. She was skiing down a beginner slope at the time, when JW skied off the trail to avoid another skier who had cut in front of her. She crashed into an electrical box six to eight feet off of the trail, which Timberline used to make snow, fracturing her left tibia. JW’s father (Father) sued the resort under the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, alleging that Timberline failed to properly mark the box with warning signs and failed to maintain the slope in a reasonably safe condition.
Father said that he and JW had skied the slope several times that day, and neither of them noticed the box marked with warning signs. He also argued that the resort should have taken extra steps to protect skiers, including by padding the box. A trial court disagreed. It found that there was no evidence to support Father’s claim that the box wasn’t marked. Instead, a ski patroller who arrived on the scene after the accident said a warning sign marked the box and provided photo evidence to back it up. The court said the resort wasn’t required to pad the box because it wasn’t located on the slope. The court concluded that Timberline didn’t breach the WVSRA, and it granted summary judgment to the resort.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court noted that state law requires ski slope operators to “mark with a visible sign or other warning implementation the location of any hydrant or similar equipment used in snowmaking operations and located on ski slopes or trails.” It also obligates the operator to maintain the slopes in a reasonably safe condition. The court said the testimony and photo evidence supported Timberline’s assertion that the box was marked. It said the lower court appropriately credited this evidence over Father’s recollection, which it said was purely “conjecture and speculation.” The resort wasn’t required to pad the box under the law, according to the Court.
The Court also said that JW assumed the risk inherent in skiing. Although young children can’t be deemed negligent under state law, the Court said the WVSRA clearly states that all skiers assume the risk associated with the sport. “Each skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury . . . which results from participation in the sport of skiing,” the statute reads. As a result, the Court said it would not read an exemption into the statute for young children, especially in a case where it found that the resort had not breached any duties under the law.
Despite the outcome in this case, a person who is injured in an accident has a number of legal tools available to ensure that those responsible for the incident are held responsible. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, the West Virginia personal injury lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
Related blog posts: