Court: Skiers may assume risk of riding chairlifts
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Supreme Court has issued a ruling that could limit the ability of skiers to collect damages if they’re injured on ski lifts.
Friday’s ruling comes in a federal case in which skier Sharon Muller of Hawaii sued the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in 2001.
Muller claims she was injured when her ski boot became caught under the exterior rack of the Bridger Gondola and she was dragged several feet. Her skis were stowed on a rack on the gondola at the time.
A federal jury in June 2003 ruled against Muller, finding that her injuries resulted from an “inherent risk” of skiing.
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The Wyoming Recreational Safety Act specifies that people who participate in outdoor sports such as horseback riding and skiing shoulder the risks of doing so.
Muller appealed the jury verdict to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That court asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to address the question of whether the state’s Recreational Safety Act covers the risk of riding ski lifts in addition to skiing itself.
In a ruling issued on Friday, the state Supreme Court said that the inherent risks of skiing aren’t limited to only the act of skiing. The court said that the use and operation of ski lifts may be an inherent risk also, “although those questions must be decided by the fact finder based on the evidence presented.”
William Fix, Muller’s lawyer, said Sunday that the state court ruling is just the first step in pressing his client’s appeal in federal court.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the answers to the questions by the Wyoming Supreme Court,” Fix said. “We feel like it’s just another infringement of the rights of Wyoming citizens.”
Fix said he intends to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s entire Recreational Safety Act in the federal appeal.
Fix said Muller is 52 years old and said she suffered a debilitating injury when her ski boot was caught between the gondola and a rubber mat.
“It slowly twisted her leg, dragged her and fractured her tibia,” Fix said, adding that she has suffered chronic pain ever since.
Calls seeking comment on Sunday from the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were not immediately returned.
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Pools in Aspen and Pitkin County will be allowed to open Monday, though COVID-19-related rules will apply.