McCaw v. Ariz. Snowbowl Resort – 11/22/2022

December 5, 2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the Arizona Ski Safety Act does not shield a ski area operator from liability for injuries arising from ski lift accidents.

A man took his teenage children skiing, and the teens’ skis and snowboard became entangled as they boarded a ski lift, causing one of them to slip and fall over 34 feet into the snow below before they could get the attention of the lift operator to stop the lift.  The teen did not appear physically injured, but all three family members began having recurring nightmares after the incident.

The family sued the ski area operator, alleging that the operator’s negligence had caused them emotional distress and psychiatric injuries.  The operator denied liability and moved for summary judgment, asserting that it owed the skiers no duty under the Arizona Ski Safety Act and that they had failed to present evidence of legally cognizable injuries.  After oral argument, the superior court granted summary judgment because it found that the Act placed the duty to safely load, ride, and unload a chair lift exclusively on the skier, and not on the ski lift operator.  It did not reach the question of whether the skiers had claimed cognizable injuries.

The court of appeals vacated and remanded.  Looking at the plain text of the Act, the court found that it was not the legislature’s intent to abrogate common-law negligence principles.  Rather, the Act provides that skiers assume all legal responsibility for injuries arising out of the inherent dangers of skiing while ski area operators retain common-law liability for both ordinary and gross negligence.  The court found that, although the Act does impose a duty on skiers to have the knowledge and ability to load, ride, and unload from a ski lift, it does not include ski lift passage as an inherent risk of skiing and, in another part of the Act, imposes a duty of care toward ski lift passengers by requiring operators to assist inexperienced passengers and maintain emergency procedures in case of accidents.  The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether the skiers, the ski area operator, or both, breached their respective duties. 

Judge Campbell authored this opinion, in which Presiding Judge Furuya and Judge McMurdie joined.

Posted by: Heather Robles