Let It Snow – Triable Issue Existed as to Whether Nine Year Old That Collided with Snowmaking Machine Assumed the Risk (PA)

by

MD ex rel Mora-Dillon v. Ski Shawnee (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff was a nine year old girl that participated in a ski trip with her elementary school as a novice skier with no skiing experience other than three lessons.  As she was skiing down one of the slopes, she collided with a snowmaking machine, suffering several bone fractures and other injuries.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the ski resort, contending that the resort failed to adequately place padding on the metal components of the snowmaking machine.  The ski resort filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it had no duty to protect plaintiff from the inherent risks associated with downhill skiing.  Defendant argued that even though plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk presented, the plaintiff implicitly assumed the risk of colliding with snowmaking equipment, negating any duty it had to plaintiff.

The Pennsylvania U.S. District Court denied the ski resort’s motion.  In reviewing the law in Pennsylvania regarding assumption of the risk, the Court stated:

“[W]here a risk is commonly known, expected, and intrinsic to a particular activity—a risk inherent  to that activity—the plaintiff may be charged with knowledge of that risk by operation of law. If, on the other hand, a plaintiff can credibly establish that she did not know of or fully appreciate the nature of the risk, the court simply cannot justify a finding that she voluntarily assumed the unknown risk.”

The Court noted that it applied “a subjective standard, asking what the plaintiff herself knew and understood, and take into consideration age, experience, and other relevant factors.”  The plaintiff was an inexperienced skier, and the defendant had conceded that the plaintiff did not know of or appreciate the risks associated with the snowmaking equipment.

The defendant argued that “Skiing Responsibility Act” (as part of Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence statute) relieved it from any duty to protect the plaintiff.  Defendant argued that the Act imposes assumption of the risk upon anyone who skis with respect to all inherent risks of skiing.  However, the Court disagreed.  The Court stated that the Act “merely acknowledges that, ‘as in some other sports, there are inherent risks in the sport of downhill skiing.'”  However, according to the Court, the Act did not defined “inherent risk” and it did not not alter comparative negligence in relation to skiing injuries.  The Act preserved the doctrine of voluntary assumption of risk as it pertained to skiing injuries, and the Court held that the defendant failed to establish that the risks alleged to have caused plaintiff’s injuries were inherent to downhill skiing.

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