Federal Appellate Court Discusses Validity of Accident-Release Waiver in California Ski Resort Injury Case

California is fortunate to have some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery in the country. Not only does the state’s landscape provide for excellent sight-seeing, it also gives the more adventurous the opportunity to engage in a wide range of recreational activities. From swimming and surfing to skiing and camping, Californians are known for getting out there and enjoying what their state has to offer.

Many times, when someone participates in a recreational activity, the owner of the land or the provider of the service will require the participant to sign a release-waiver prior to engaging in the activity. These waiver forms generally act to limit a participant’s ability to file a California personal injury lawsuit should anything go wrong when the participant is enjoying the activity.

A recent opinion issued by a federal appellate court discussed the validity of these waivers and the factors courts will consider when determining if they are enforceable.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff arranged to go skiing at the defendant ski resort. Not being familiar with the sport, the plaintiff decided to take a lesson. Prior to the lesson beginning, the plaintiff signed an accident release-waiver. The language in the waiver stated that the plaintiff understood and voluntarily accepted the inherent risks of skiing and agreed not to hold the ski resort liable for any injuries she sustained while skiing.

As the plaintiff unloaded off the chair lift, her boot got caught between the lower part of the chair and the snow berm skiers used to descend after disembarking from the lift. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the ski resort, arguing that the berm left too little room between the snow and the lift. She also argued that the ski instructor failed to provide her with the necessary instruction on how to unload off the lift.

The ski resort responded by arguing that the plaintiff had previously waived the right to pursue this type of claim by signing the accident release-waiver. The lower court agreed and dismissed the case against the resort. The plaintiff appealed to a higher court.

On appeal, the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case was affirmed. The court began by explaining that, while exculpatory clauses are generally disfavored and cannot be used by a party to excuse intentional or grossly negligent conduct, they will be enforced under certain circumstances. The court considered whether the contract was clear, whether it was fairly entered into, and whether it involved the performance of an important public service, such that potential plaintiffs may have little choice but to agree to the terms.

Here, the court concluded that all of the factors favored finding the contract enforceable. The court noted that the contract was clear in stating the rights given up by the plaintiff and that the subject matter of the contract – recreational activity – was not so important that the plaintiff couldn’t have refused to agree to the terms and walked away. The court noted that had the contract dealt with a more important public service, the result may have been different.

Have You Been Injured While Skiing?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a California ski accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated California personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm have extensive experience handling a wide range of personal injury claims, including those involving pay-to-play recreational activities like injuries involved while taking a lesson. To learn more, call 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated California personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Discusses Potentially Conflicting Witness Testimony, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 5, 2018

Hit-and-Run Accidents in Southern California, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2018

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