Connecticut Ski Resort Liability

The downhill skiing events in this year’s Olympic games produced some major crashes.  So a bit of skiing law seems appropriate. 

A recent Connecticut Superior Court decision discussed the state’s law concerning the liability of ski resort operators.  Although liability waivers can be difficult to enforce in Connecticut courts, the Connecticut General Assembly has enacted measures to protect ski resort operators.

Connecticut General Statutes Section 29-212(b) provides as follows:

Each skier shall assume the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to his or her person or property caused by the hazards inherent in the sport of skiing. Such hazards include, but are not limited to:

(1) Variations in the terrain of the trail or slope which is marked in accordance with subdivision (3) of section 29-211 or variations in surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions, except that no skier assumes the risk of variations which are caused by the ski area operator unless such variations are caused by snow making, snow grooming or rescue operations;

(2) bare spots which do not require the closing of the trail or slope;

(3) conspicuously placed or, if not so placed, conspicuously marked lift towers;

(4) trees or other objects not within the confines of the trail or slope;

(5) loading, unloading or otherwise using a passenger tramway without prior knowledge of proper loading and unloading procedures or without reading instructions concerning loading and unloading posted at the base of such passenger tramway or without asking for such instructions; and

(6) collisions with any other person by any skier while skiing, except that collisions with on-duty employees of the ski area operator who are skiing and are within the scope of their employment at the time of the collision shall not be a hazard inherent in the sport of skiing.

Skiing is treated differently than other pursuits as it is inherently dangerous by nature – and in Connecticut, by statute.  Therefore, skiers assume virtually all of the risks “caused by the hazards inherent in the sport.”  Trail conditions, objects located off the trails, lift towers, collisions with other persons and other undefined conditions are considered inherent dangers. 

The statute provides an exception to the assumption of the risk rule for collisions with “on-duty employees of the ski area operator.”  The case of Kearns v. Ski Sundown, Inc., 2009 WL 3739414 (Conn.Super. 2009), discussed that the wording of the statute – excluding “on duty employers” – does not necessarily protect resorts from acts of non-employee agents, such as volunteers.  (The court’s discussion came within the plaintiff’s Motion to Strike the defendant’s Special Defense.  The case has yet to be decided on the merits).

Of course this statute doesn’t preclude plaintiffs from attempting to make arguments that their clients’ injuries were caused by events not inherent to the sport.  But compared to the analysis under a standard liability waiver, a plaintiff suing a ski resort faces a much higher burden.

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