Primary Assumption of the Risk Comes in Play in Skiing Injury Case

Apr 24, 2004

A California appeals court has concluded that a trial court acted properly when it dismissed a wrongful death claim brought by the parents of a teenager, whose daughter died in a skiing accident at the Squaw Valley ski resort. In so doing, the court upheld the applicability of the California rule of primary assumption of risk.
Three years ago, Amber Robinson was skiing with her parents and younger sister on the “Home Run” ski trail when a snow-boarder collided with the woman, causing fatal head injuries. The snow-boarder was a reservations clerk for the resort, but was off-duty at the time.
In their complaint, the parents alleged that Squaw Valley negligently designed, constructed, maintained, and managed the trail where the accident occurred. The resort answered the complaint and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the collision between Amber and the snow-boarder is an inherent risk of skiing. In their response to that motion, the Robinson argued that the resort increased the risk of injury, therefore precluding a defense of primary assumption of risk.
Discovery revealed that the slopes were not overly crowded that day. The snow-boarder was traveling between 15 and 20 miles per hour when he saw a “slow” warning sign as he approached the family. He attempted to pass her on the left, but they collided.
In addition, it was revealed that Squaw Valley held general orientation meetings for new employees concerning the employee handbook and the skiing responsibility.
However, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the trail “was too narrow for the number of users and their varying skill levels” as well as “poorly designed in part because other ski trails converged therein.”
Nevertheless, the trial court granted summary judgment, spawning the present appeal.
Upon review, the appeals court noted that “the rule of primary assumption of risk applies to participation in a sports activity. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, 314-315, 320.) A defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff from risks inherent in the sport. (Ibid.) The defendant does owe a duty, however, not to increase the risks of an activity beyond those inherent in the sport. (Id., at pp. 315-316.)”
It further held the trial court properly granted summary judgment because Squaw Valley owed no duty to Amber to protect her from a risk inherent in skiing. “Snow skiing is a sport that involves certain inherent risks.” (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 8, 12 [plaintiff collided with ski lift tower].) These include “injuries which can result from variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees and other forms of natural growth or debris; collisions with ski lift towers and their components, with other skiers, or with properly marked or plainly visible snow-making or snow-grooming equipment. [Italics omitted.]” (Ibid). Amber’s injuries resulted from her voluntary participation in a sport in which the risk of injury due to accidental collision is known and accepted. (Cheong v. Antablin, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1069-1070 [collision with another skier is inherent risk of skiing]; Mastro v. Petrick (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 83 [risk that snowboarder will descend slope too fast and out of control is inherent risk of skiing on same slope].)” Robinson et al. v. Squaw Valley Ski Corporation et al, B167150
Cal.App.2nd, 3/4/04


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