Sports Law • Risk Management

September 27, 2010: Skier Assumed Risk of Injury by Snowboarder

In a recent case, Bell v. Dean, __A.2d __, 2010 WL 3211956 (Pa.Super. August 16, 2010), Plaintiff Bell, a skier, brought a personal injury action against Dean, a snowboarder, claiming that he sustained injuries arising out of a collision at Ski Roundtop, a recreational ski area. The accident occurred while they were both progressing down Ramrod, an “expert level” ski slope. Bell claimed that Dean was snowboarding at a high rate of speed down the steeper “headwall” of the slope and failed to keep a proper lookout, and by doing so was negligent. Bell was traversing the slope as part of his position as a Certified Ski Patroller, which position he had held for 44 years.

The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff Bell appealed. The appellate court cited another case which concluded that “the risk of colliding with another skier is one of the common, frequent and expected risks inherent in downhill skiing. Indeed, other skiers are as much a part of the risk in downhill skiing, if not more so, than the snow and ice, elevation, contour, speed and weather conditions.” Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339 (2000). Accordingly, the court concluded that “Bell’s injury arose from the ‘general risk’ of colliding with another skier or snowboarder. Notably, this risk has been deemed inherent to the sport of downhill skiing and one that Bell assumed by participating in the sport.” The facts did not support a conclusion that Dean intentionally struck Bell or that Dean was snowboarding out of control.

The court noted that the Pennsylvania “legislature has expressly recognized that the sport of downhill skiing is an economic interest to this Commonwealth and that there are risks inherent to the sport. Or legislature has accounted for these risks by preserving the common law doctrine of assumption of the risk in this area.”

This is an example of another case in which assumption of risk has applied in support of the public policy of allowing the free play of sport, without interference by the courts.