Skiers assume the potential for injury when they try to navigate a steep mountainside, but not all risks are inherent, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, clearing the way for a lawsuit against a resort.
William Rothstein suffered severe internal injuries when he skied into a wall at Snowbird in February 2003. He sued and claimed the resort was negligent.
A lower court had said Snowbird Corp. was protected from a lawsuit because of two waivers signed by Rothstein when he obtained a season pass at the popular resort near Salt Lake City.
The high court overturned that ruling and said the releases go against a state law that is designed to keep insurance rates affordable for resorts but not shield them from all liability.
The releases signed by Rothstein "are contrary to the public policy of this state and are, therefore, unenforceable," the 3-2 decision said.
Snowbird spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said the resort doesn't comment on pending litigation.
In court papers, the resort maintained Rothstein skied off a connecting trail to an area that was marked off by rope. But the rope had a gap, which Rothstein mistook for an entrance to an open trail. He hit a wall made of railroad ties that was obscured by a light covering of snow.
Snowbird won the earlier ruling on two releases Rothstein had signed, assuming all risks and specifically mentioning cases "including the negligence of Snowbird, its employees and agents."
The Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday restores Rothstein's lawsuit and clarifies state law.
"What it will do is to encourage ski resorts to be more careful in their operations," said Jesse Trentadue, an attorney for Rothstein.