Skier, Beware

Vail hits back when an injured woman sues.

Naturally, personal-injury attorneys loathe the measure. "It's really the Colorado Ski Area Immunity and Resort Relief Act," complains Chalet. Even he, however, says that countersuing an injured skier for violating a waiver takes chutzpah.

Vail attorney Peter Rietz declined to comment for this story. The resort has a legal history of aggressively defending itself against liability lawsuits, though, and Parsons's case has been no different. In court filings, the resort has argued that, for starters, just because there was a bracket that might pose a danger to skiers, it is not to blame for Parsons's injuries. The Lionshead Bridge, Vail claims, is an inherent risk of skiing at Vail -- no matter what its condition.

In addition, Vail notes that Parsons had a choice about skiing on its mountain, as well as whether or not to sign its waiver. "Skiing at Vail is a voluntary activity, and so is purchasing a season pass," the company notes. "People are not compelled to do either." Vail adds that, in effect, it asks its season-pass holders to sign a waiver in exchange for a killer deal on the ticket. (Parsons says she paid about $700 for hers.)

The idea that signing a waiver of liability might protect a business beyond what the law dictates is not unheard of. With its long tradition of horse-related activities, Colorado also has laws that protect businesses that use horses -- hunting outfitters and riding stables being the most common -- from many lawsuits. In a decision late last year, the Supreme Court ruled that a hunter who'd sustained serious injuries after falling off his mule could not sue the outfitter. Even though the company might have been at fault -- the mule's saddle apparently was not properly cinched -- the court ruled that since the man had signed a waiver before going on the hunt, he had no case.

Yet there are differences with the Parsons case, which is still in the early stages. For one thing, a ski-area liability waiver such as the one she signed effectively creates two classes of skiers: those who purchase season passes and by doing so agree to hold the ski area harmless for whatever happens, and those who buy single-day passes or four-passes and therefore maintain their right to sue. "Why should it be any different if you buy a season pass rather than just a one-day ticket?" Bloch wonders.

Still, Chalet says the biggest issue remains the apparent clash between public policy as represented in the Ski Safety Act and the resort owners' attempt to extend the law beyond what legislators intended when they passed those very specific laws. "They want the whole enchilada," he says. "They're not happy with the law; they want full immunity for all their wrongdoing."

For her part, Parsons has resumed her regular life -- in other words, skiing at Vail. "I think it's the greatest mountain to ski on," she says. "I love it -- the terrain, the atmosphere, everything."

Which, of course, is exactly what Vail is counting on. As long as people keep thinking that way, signing away their rights will be just another irritation on the way to the slopes.

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