Oregon Ski Areas Seek Liability Shield After Court Ruling

By Jonathan J. Cooper | March 31, 2015

Ski areas are asking the Oregon Legislature for enhanced protection from lawsuits after the state Supreme Court invalidated the broad liability waivers often printed on the back of lift tickets.

Ski facility executives told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that they may have to raise their prices if they aren’t shielded from lawsuits. They warned of potentially dire consequences for the rural businesses that rely on skiers in winter months.

But Lauren Bagley, whose son was injured as a teenager at Mount Bachelor in 2006, said ski companies should be held accountable when their man-made equipment fails. Her son, Myles Bagley, was 18 when he fell on a jump and was paralyzed. Mount Bachelor has not been found at fault, but the Supreme Court decision in November gave Bagley the chance to argue in court that the resort was negligent.

Lauren Bagley acknowledged that some factors in ski injuries are beyond the control of ski operators, but said they shouldn’t be able to shirk liability for man-made equipment or enhancements to the slope.

“Humans make mistakes,” she told the legislative committee. “They cannot deny the fact that possibly a mistake was made. Not everything is an accident. Some things are preventable. They just shift the blame to the skier, constantly to the skier.”

A 1979 Oregon law declares that skiing is an inherently risky activity and shields ski area operators from liability in some instances. Until last year’s Supreme Court case, it was routinely used to block lawsuits by injured skiers and snowboarders.

The bill proposed this year would nullify the decision for future cases, making broad liability waivers enforceable in court. It would prevent lawsuits alleging the ski area was negligent or created unreasonable conditions. Ski resorts would only be liable for intentional acts by their staff or for “gross negligence,” a higher legal standard.

Without the liability waiver, ski areas would be forced to litigate each case brought by an injured skier or snowboarder, even if it ultimately proved it was not negligent, said Andy Ballyeat, a Bend attorney who represents Mount Bachelor and other ski businesses.

“The impact of not updating the skier statue will eventually cost jobs, limit access to public lands, and threaten the economic stability of these areas and the state of Oregon as a whole,” said Matthew Drake, chairman and chief executive of Mt. Hood Meadows.

Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, asked both sides to work together and see if there’s room for agreement.


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