Colleen Barillari traveled with her family to the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area to watch her husband and children take ski lessons on January 10, 2010.  She was simply a spectator and had not purchased a lift ticket or pass.  Colleen, with a group of other spectators, stood on the slope near a line of tape dividing the instruction area from a ski run. 

While standing on the snow watching, a skier lost control and collided into Colleen.  Colleen suffered injuries to her left leg.

Colleen and her husband filed suit against the resort which is owned by Ski Shawnee Inc. and is located in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.  Ski Shawnee moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Barillaris’ claims are barred by either the Pennsylvania Skier’s Responsibility Act or the traditional common law assumption of risk doctrine. 

 U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann denied the motion Tuesday, finding that Colleen was not skiing at the time of the accident, as required by the cited statutes.

“Although someone wearing skis and standing in the area of Mrs. Barillari and the other spectators on a momentary pause in their run may well have been ‘engaged in the sport,’ that is an entirely different matter from someone who is purely a spectator,” Brann wrote. “Even though a collision with a skier is a prominent injury considered to be inherent in the sport of skiing as contemplated by the statute and the courts, the fact remains that Mrs. Barillari was merely a spectator not engaged in the sport.”

Furthermore, the ruling holds that since nothing in the record indicates that Colleen was specifically aware of the danger that later befell her, the voluntary assumption of risk doctrine does not apply.

And finally, the judge also threw out the ski resort’s claim that Colleen’s case is directly analogous to a spectator at a baseball game being hit by a foul ball:  “Although a skier crashing into spectators may be a foreseeable risk inherent in the sport of skiing, it is not a necessary and inherent element of that sport.”

The court further held that charging the resort with the ordinary duty of care to protect spectators “will not in any way affect the essence of skiing. The ski resort may erect mesh fences, snow walls, ropes, and other sorts of precautions around the sides and at the base of the slopes without impeding the rhythmic descent of countless alpine enthusiasts.”

A jury will decide whether either or both parties were negligent, the ruling states.

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