Out in the Cold – Ski Lift Ticket Release Agreement Contrary to Public Policy (OR)

by

Becker v. Hoodoo Ski Area (Oregon)

A skier was injured when she was struck by a moving chairlift.  She brought a negligence action against the ski area operator.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on a “Release Agreement” that occupied approximately one-half of the face of the lift ticket purchased by the skier on the day in question.  The skier denied having noticed or read the release agreement document.  The skier filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the waiver and release document that she signed was procedurally and substantively unconscionable.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and denied the plaintiff’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff renewed her argument that the waiver and release was unenforceable because it was contrary to public policy and was unconscionable.  The Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed the trial court and remanded the case to trial.  Relying on the Oregon Supreme Court decision in Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor (2014), the Court of Appeals held that the release agreement was unconscionable.  The Court discussed numerous factors that went into the analysis including the “superior bargaining strength” of the defendant, the release agreement being offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it basis,” and the lack of an “opportunity to negotiate for different terms or pay an additional fee for protection against defendant’s negligence.”  The Court further concluded that the “‘enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result’ to befall the plaintiffs, and the Court noted that the “defendant’s business operation [was] sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to patrons.”

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