Rough Terrain

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Malaguit v. Ski Sundown, Inc. (Connecticut)
(A skier was rendered a quadriplegic during a fall in the ski area’s “terrain park”; the Court affirmed a general jury verdict in favor of the defendant ski area.)

The plaintiff was 15 years old at the time of the incident.  He attempted to ski over a snow jump in the ski area’s “terrain park” but fell, landing in a way that severely injured his spine.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the ski area, claiming that it had been negligent in the building and maintenance of the snow jump.  Pursuant to Connecticut’s ski area statute, the defendant argued that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury and that the statute was a complete bar to plaintiff’s recovery.  According to the statute, ski areas are not liable for any injuries caused by terrain variations that are the result of “snow grooming.”  The defendant argued that the snow jump had been created as part of a process of snow grooming, such that plaintiff assumed the risks and that his injuries were caused by his own negligence.  The plaintiff countered by claiming that the snow jump was not a hazard inherent in the sport of skiing, unsuccessfully arguing that the jury should not be given instruction relating to the Connecticut skiing statute.  Thereafter, a jury returned a verdict for the defendant, and the plaintiff filed a motion to set it aside.  The motion was denied and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued, among other things, that the court erred by rejecting his request for a verdict with interrogatories rather than a general verdict.  However, the Court of Appeal noted that plaintiff had failed to object to the denial of the request, which was the functional equivalent of a failure to request interrogatories.  Notwithstanding this failure to object, the Court of Appeal noted that a general verdict was appropriate under the circumstances.

NOTE: This published opinion does not appear to indicate whether the defendant had filed a motion for summary judgment based on the ski area liability statute prior to the jury trial.  Additionally, as a point of interest, the plaintiff argued on appeal that the trial court should have instructed the jury on spoliation of evidence because the defendant (1) failed to take photographs or video of the terrain condition on the night of the incident, (2) failed to interview witnesses on the night of the incident, and (3) failed to maintain photographs and video of the ski jump on its website.  However, the Court of Appeal rejected this argument based on plaintiff’s failure to demonstrate how the evidence was necessary to prove an essential element of the case (e.g., plaintiff had taken his own photographs of the terrain two weeks after the accident and plaintiff failed to show that the defendant controlled the evidence).

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