Maine’s ski safety act, found at Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 32, §§ 15217, 15218, establishes duties among skiers, tramway passengers, and ski area operators. Excepting negligence in an operator’s execution of their maintenance, warning, and sign duties, skiers assume all “inherent risks” of skiing, including slope design and condition, impact with natural or man-made stationary objects, and collisions with other skiers. Id. Skiers are solely responsible between themselves for collisions, and have duties to ski within their skill level, and to “refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of the skier or others.” Id. Tramways are also licensed and regulated under this Chapter of Maine statutes. Those involved in rescue operations, including ski patrol members are immune from liability except for injury or death caused “willfully, wantonly or recklessly or by gross negligence.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 164 (earlier version made specific reference to ski patrols). All ski-related claims expressly subject to two-year statute of limitations. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 752-B.
Amburgey v. Atomic Ski USA, Inc., Civil No. 06-149-P-SUnited States District Court, First Circuit (2008)
On December 8, 2002 Amburgey paid for one day’s use of a pair of Atomic SX-11 skis on a “demo” basis from the Crisports ski shop at Sunday River. Amburgey fell while skiing at Sunday River, sustaining severe and permanent injuries, including vertebral fractures and spinal-cord damage. Amburgey was aware that Crisports was owned by Sunday River and understood that Crisports was the seller or distributor of the ski equipment that she was demoing and considering for purchase. When she signed the rental form, she believed she was entering into an agreement with Sunday River to use the ski equipment that she was demoing. When Amburgey signed the form, she did not believe she was entering into any agreement with Atomic and did not believe that the agreement was intended to benefit Atomic or anyone other than her and Sunday River. When Amburgey entered into the rental agreement, she had no intention of releasing Atomic from its obligation to provide her with safe and properly functioning equipment. Although she understood that there are risks inherent in the sport of alpine skiing, such as rocks, changing weather and snow conditions, she did not understand these inherent risks to include risks associated with defectively designed, manufactured or sold ski equipment.
Atomic sought summary judgment as to all of these counts on the ground that the Rental/Release Form was fully enforceable under Maine law and absolved it from any and all liability for Amburgey’s personal injuries. The defendant was not a signatory to the Rental/Release Form whose protections it claimed, and Atomic fell short of making the requisite showing with special clarity that the parties, in particular Amburgey, intended to release it from the liability in issue. Motion for Summary judgment denied.
Prior to 2006
Collision with unpadded snow-making hydrant located in ungroomed area was held to be an “inherent risk,” not negligent operation. Green v. Sunday River Ski Corp., 81 F.Supp.2d 122 (D.Me. 1999). Neither waivers entered into with ski area operator, nor statutory assumption of inherent risks precluded skier/skier suit. Bresnahan v. Bowen, 263 F.Supp.2d 131, (D.Me. 2003). As opposed to tree placement which is considered an inherent risk arising from design, negligent operation or maintenance includes precarious snow blower placement without proper warning, and “failure to notify skiers of slope closure due to poor or dangerous trial conditions.” Finnern v. Sunday River Ski Corp., 984 F.2d 530 (1st Cir. 1993). In interpreting the substantively-similar predecessor to Maine’s current ski safety statute, the Supreme Judicial Court held that statutory assumption of inherent risk is treated as an affirmative defense, and that plaintiff does not have an initial burden of proving the non-existence of an inherent risk. Merrill v. Sugarloaf Mountain Corp., 745 A.2d 378 (Me. 2000). Neither parental waiver nor the current ski safety statute bar a minor’s negligent supervision claim arising from ski school injury at ski area. Rice v. American Skiing Co., not reported in A.2d, 2000 WL 33677027 (Me. Super.)