Youth Was Served

by

Peterson v. Donahue (Minnesota)
(11 Year Old Experienced Skier Speeding Down the Ski Slope Collided with Adult Skier Crossing the Slope; Assumption of the Risk Precluded Negligence Claim by Youth)

The 11 year old plaintiff was skiing fast down the slope when he encountered the defendant adult skiier, who was slowly crossing the slope to access the parking lot. The two skiers collided, resulting in personal injury to the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the defendant skier, claiming that he was negligent in failing to look up the slope for others skiers before crossing. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based upon primary assumption of the risk. The court granted the motion and the minor plaintiff appealed.

On appeal the court noted that Minnesota courts had accepted primary assumption of the risk as a bar to recovery in actions related to various sports. More specifically, the courts had applied primary assumption of the risk to actions between sporting participants. Under Minnesota law, application of the doctrine requires that a person who voluntarily takes the risk (1) knows of the risk, (2) appreciates the risk, and (3) has a chance to avoid the risk.

Appellant did not argue that he did not know of the risk of colliding with another skier, appreciate that risk, or have a chance to avoid the risk.  Instead, he argued that Minnesota law had not recognized primary assumption of the risk between skiers.  However, the court explained that while that specific application had not yet been addressed in a published opinion, other cases (including unpublished opinions) supported the inference that primary assumption of the risk would be recognized between skiers and would be consistent with existing law.

Alternatively, the plaintiff argued that the defendant skier increased the risks inherent in the activity by not looking for other skiers before crossing the slope. However, plaintiff was above defendant on the hill, and plaintiff skied into the defendant. Both parties testified that it was a skier’s responsibility to remain in control, and plaintiff did not assert that the defendant was not in control or that he did not have the right to be on the hill. Therefore, the court concluded that there was no evidence to support that the defendant increased the risks.

NOTE: There was no evidence to suggest that the defendant skier acted recklessly.  The conclusion of this case would appear consistent with the vast majority of similar cases throughout the country.  From a practical standpoint, this case is interesting because one would have expected that it would have been the defendant rather than the plaintiff who was pursuing the action based on the description of the events.

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