Are Colorado Court’s Turning Up the Heat on the Colorado Ski Resorts?

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Colorado’s Ski and Safety Act, which outlines responsibilities for skiers and resort operators, was originally designed to protect the small, family owned ski areas from lawsuits and skyrocketing insurance costs.

Now the Act has been used to insulate the multiple multibillion-­dollar corporations and real estate developers who now own nearly all of Colorado’s ski resorts from liability.

As a recent three-­part series in the Denver Post discussed, ski areas have attempted, in the past, to escape liability for inbound avalanches, ski resort employees plowing into 9 year olds and rotted bridges or buildings injuring skiers/snow­boarders.

However, in recent years, Colorado courts have turned up the heat on the Ski industries attempts to avoid liability.

In 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Vail acted recklessly and a jury could award punitive damages to the family of Amber Stamp (a 13 year old girl who was injured when she was struck by an employee­-driven snowmobile at Vail ski area in December 2004). The snowmobile was traveling 25 mph when it came up over a knoll and collided with Ashley Stamp, who was warming up for a race.

In January of 2013, Routt County District Court Judge Shelley Hill refused to dismiss a case brought by the family of 19 ­year-­old Cooper Larsh, who died skiing the Howelsen Hill ski area in Steamboat Springs in March 2011. Hill ruled that the trail where Larsh died was not properly closed, ruling that the resort operator’s failure to rope off the permanently closed terrain was “an unreasonable risk” and “negligent omission.” Six months after this ruling, Steamboat Springs settled the claim for $150,000.00.

Also in 2013 (December), Broomfield County District Court Judge Patrick Murphy denied Vail Resorts’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the family of 13­ year-­old Taft Conlin, who died in an inbounds avalanche at Vail ski area in January 2012. In his ruling, Judge Murphy ruled against Vail’s argument that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing, saying that avalanches are not listed in the Ski Safety Act’s list of inherent dangers and risks of skiing; and, if the legislature had intended avalanches to be an inherent risk, it would be in the 1979 law.

Taft Conlin’s parents filed a wrongful ­death lawsuit against The Vail Corp., claiming the resort violated the Colorado Ski Safety Act when it closed the upper access to the Prima Cornice run but did not close the lower entrance.

Filed in July 2012, the lawsuit claims that by failing to close the lower gate, Vail allowed Taft to ski into a “death trap” within the resort’s boundaries.

While the case moved closer to trial in September 2014, after Broomfield County District Court Judge Chris Melonakis found that Vail officials knew there was a high avalanche danger on the day Taft died, the trial was halted by the Colorado Supreme Court, when it announced in December of 2014 that it will decide whether inbounds avalanches are one of the inherent risks of skiing.

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About Lance Sears

Lance has over thirty five years of trial experience. In 2003, Mr. Sears was named a Fellow of the International Society of Barristers (ISOB), a prestigious international organization with only approximately 600 members throughout the English-speaking world. Lance Sear's Google+ Profile

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