SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday a ski resort’s broad liability waiver cannot prevent a paralyzed snowboarder from suing.
The justices ruled that the liability waiver was “unconscionable” and contrary to public policy, potentially opening the door for more people injured in recreational activities to file successful lawsuits.
Myles Bagley was 18 when he was hurt in 2006 at Mount Bachelor near Bend. He filed a lawsuit two years later seeking $21.5 million. The trial court threw out his claim, citing the liability waiver that he signed when purchasing his season pass and another that appeared on the back of his ticket.
The Supreme Court’s ruling sends the case back to the Deschutes County trial court. To win, the snowboarder will have to convince a jury that the ski resort was negligent in designing, building and maintaining the ski jump.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ll move forward and we’ll try the case to a jury,” said Andrew C. Balyeat, a lawyer representing the ski resort. “We’re confident the jury will find that Mount Bachelor was not negligent in any way.”
Oregon ski resorts will now have to spend more money defending themselves against lawsuits filed by injured customers, Balyeat said.
Mount Bachelor argued that skiing is inherently risky, and the resort has no control over many of the factors that contribute to injuries, such as the skier’s speed, course, angle and the difficulty of his aerial manoeuvr.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, the court weighed a variety of factors to conclude that the liability waiver should not stand. The justices noted that there was no opportunity for Bagley to negotiate more favourable terms and the resort has more expertise than the snowboarder in determining the safety of facilities.
The justices also said the risk of lawsuits is an important incentive for ski resorts to ensure they’re creating safe conditions.
Arthur Johnson, one of Bagley’s lawyers, said the decision will encourage ski resorts to provide safe conditions.
“I don’t think it’s going to change the world dramatically, but hopefully it will make it a little safer,” said Arthur Johnson, a lawyer for the Bagleys.