Resort Shielded by Ski Area Safety Act

Jan 26, 2006

A Michigan appeals court has affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s claim that a ski resort was negligent when the plaintiff was injured while trying to exit the ski lift.
Specifically, the court highlighted the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), which provides that “each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts the dangers that are inherent in that sport insofar as the dangers are obvious and necessary. Those dangers include, but are not limited to, injuries which can result from . . . collisions with ski lift towers and their components . . . .”
The incident occurred on January 31, 2004 when plaintiff Eugene Feldman was snowboarding with friends at the Mt. Holly Resort. Midway through the day, Feldman climbed aboard a chair lift to ride with a friend to the top of a hill. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, his arm became lodged in the chair’s metal framework. When Feldman stepped away from the bench, his arm remained stuck. The chair continued to move fracturing the plaintiff’s arm, before it became dislodged.
The plaintiff sued for negligence. The defendant moved for summary judgment. After the trial court granted the defendant’s motion, the plaintiff appealed.
As mentioned, the appeals court relied heavily on the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.
“Pursuant to this assumption of risk clause, skiers assume the obvious and necessary dangers of skiing,” it wrote, citing Kent v Alpine Valley Ski Area, Inc, 240 Mich. App. 731, 739; 613 N.W.2d 383 (2000). “When an injury occurs as a result of a danger enumerated in the SASA, whether the skier or ski lift operator behaved in a reasonable and prudent manner is irrelevant. Id. at 739-740, quoting Schmitz v Cannonsburg Skiing Corp, 170 Mich. App. 692, 696; 428 N.W.2d 742 (1988).”
The court elaborated on Kent’s relevance to the instant case.
“In Kent, the plaintiff took his young grandson on a chair lift after asking an employee which hill was the safest for the child. The chair approached too quickly from behind and knocked the boy down. The plaintiff was knocked back into a seated position. He reached out to grab his grandson and slipped from the seat. However, his arm became entangled in the seat post. The plaintiff’s arm broke and he was dragged for several feet before the lift came to a stop.
“This Court determined that the plaintiff’s contact with the seat post was a ‘collision’ within the SASA, as a ‘collision’ does not require the skier to ‘actually [be] in the process of skiing.’
“Plaintiff in this case was similarly injured when he became entangled in a component of a chair lift. The reasonableness of his behavior as he turned to talk with his friend is irrelevant to the determination of whether he assumed the risk of this injury. The danger of becoming entangled in the metal frame of the chair lift seat is no less obvious and necessary than the danger of breaking one’s arm against the seat post. Accordingly, the trial court properly determined that plaintiff’s injury was the type barred by the SASA.”
Eugene Feldman v. Mt. Holly Resort, Inc., Ct.App.Mich., No. 263199, 11/22/05


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