Jump? What Jump?

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Anderson v. Boyne (Michigan)(Not Published)
(A snowboarder was paralyzed in an accident involving a jump in the defendant’s terrain park.  He sued, alleging negligence on the part of the defendant, including with regard to the design of the subject jump.  However, the court held that the jump was open and obvious, and that the Michigan statute addressing ski operator liability protected the defendant under the circumstances.)

At the trial court level, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted on the grounds that the plaintiff’s claim was barred “because the jump was an inherent, obvious, and necessary danger of snowboarding.”  The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court cited Michigan Compiled Laws Section 408.342, which provided certain immunities to ski area operators.  The statute requires a skier to “(a) Maintain reasonable control of his or her speed and course at all times. (b) Stay clear of snow grooming vehicles and equipment in the ski area. (c) Heed all posted signs and warnings. [and] (d) Ski only in ski areas which are marked as open for skiing on the trail board . . . .”  The statute further noted that each person participating in skiing activities “accepts the dangers” related thereto “insofar as those dangers are obvious and necessary.”  Moreover, according to the statute, those dangers specifically include “variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare sports; rocks, trees, and other forms of natural growth or debris; collisions with ski lift towers and their components, with other skiers, or with properly marked or plainly visible snow-making or snow-grooming equipment.”

The Court then explained that whether or not the jump that caused the incident was created by the defendant, it was “a variation in terrain that a snowboarder would expect to see if he or she entered a terrain park,” and it was “a danger inherent in the sport of skiing,” which the plaintiff accepted.  The jump was “not a hidden feature of the park, and the plaintiff would have seen it had he heeded all posted signs and warnings, as required by the statute.”

Plaintiff also argued that the jump was improperly constructed, offering expert witness testimony about a safer alternative.  However, the Court noted that “whether there was a safer alternative for creating a jump appear[ed] to be irrelevant.”  The “reasonableness of the placement of the jump” was not a consideration under the statute.

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