Ski Safety Act found at N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 24-15-1 to -14. Primary responsibility for the operation and maintenance of lifts and tramways falls to operators, with primary responsibility for skiing safety resting with the individual skier. A skier or passenger must conduct his or herself “carefully” in recognition of the “inherent risks” of the sport. Operators are required to carry insurance, to maintain a ski patrol, and to perform certain enumerated warning and notice duties. Id. at §§ 24-15-7 to 24-15-9. Excepting negligent operation, maintenance, or repair, skiers may not recover absent operator breach of a statutory duty or where skier’s own breach has contributed to an injury. Id. at §§ 24-15-13, 24-15-14. Pursuant to § 24-15-6, operators are not common carriers.
Crawford v. Barnes, Civ. 10-0926 KBM/LFG United States District Court, Tenth Circuit (2011)
Plaintiff, a skier, and Defendant, a snowboarder, collided at Taos Ski Valley on January 21, 2010. Plaintiff suffered a broken left hip. He sought damages, including past and future medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and compensation for an alleged reduction in his life expectancy. The facts are undisputed. Defendant, having skied or snowboarded at Taos Ski Valley every year since 2001 or 2002, was familiar with the resort, including Rubezahl Trail, where the collision occurred.
Defendant estimates he was going “reasonably slow” just prior to the collision, “certainly below ten miles an hour.” According to one witness, Ski Patrolman John C. Hunt, Defendant was also seeking to maintain his momentum at the time of the collision, “because it’s a flat part of the run. Your speed is decreasing really rapidly there. Snowboarders have a harder time because it acts really flat beyond, and then you’re walking.” Plaintiff was “skiing slowly (about the speed of a fast walk) close to the right edge of the road (less than 10 feet) looking for the bridge. Just as [he] saw the bridge and was turning to the right, out of the traffic lane to stop, Professor Barnes hit [him] …”
The evidence was such that a reasonable jury could resolve the issue either way. But there was no dispute that the Defendant went to some effort, albeit without success, to avoid the collision with Plaintiff. Under these circumstances, the court could not find that the Defendant acted with a culpable state of mind sufficient to support punitive damages. The undisputed facts failed to support the conclusion that Defendant displayed a “cavalier attitude” toward the dangerous activity of skiing. Similarly, the required “culpable state of mind” showing cannot lie in the Defendant’s recent denial that he had ever accepted responsibility for the collision. Even if Plaintiff is correct and “Defendant Barnes is lying in an attempt to avoid responsibility, “this is not evidence of the Defendant’s state of mind at the time of the collision and is therefore irrelevant to the question of punitive damages.
Prior to 2006
In Kidd v. Taos Ski Valley, 88 F.3d 848 (10th Cir. 1996), Kidd was injured when she failed to see a diversionary, single strand bumblebee rope, and skied out of bounds; facing defense evidence indicating rope’s position since 1978 without skier incident, plaintiff failed to timely designate experts, and the court found that she failed to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the ski area breached its duty to “warn of or correct particular hazards or dangers known to the operator where feasible to do so.” In cases that involve both skier and operator breach, comparative negligence applies, per Lopez v. Ski Apache Resort, 836 P.2d 648 (N.M. Ct. App. 1992), cert denied. However, in a later action, a court determined that the district court lacks jurisdiction over the Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Reservation for injuries at the ski area, and that the Tribe has not waived their sovereign immunity by engaging in commerce. DeFeo v. Ski Apache Resort, 904 P.2d 1065 (N.M. Ct. App. 1995), cert denied. A question of fact existed as to whether unloading guest was a passenger or skier for purposes of Ski Safety Act application in a case alleging negligent lift. Wood v. Angel Fire Ski Corp., 774 P.2d 447 (N.M. Ct. App. 1989).