Two inbounds skiers' deaths in avalanches at two difference resorts last year are testing the Colorado legal system. Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation and Vail Resorts are named in the negligence lawsuits for wrongful death. The cases have already reached the district courts in Broomfield and Grand County.
The case against Winter Park was dismissed after the judge ruled the skier was liable for the "inherent dangers and risks" that accompanied skiing, according to the Colorado Ski Safety Act. Plaintiffs argued that inbounds avalanches were not part of the state's legal definition.
The Vail case produced an entirely opposite outcome. The judge felt the same legal definition justified a wrongful death case against the resort. Vail's argument that a teen skier should have known that an avalanche-prone area was off limits was dismissed.
The attorney for the plaintiffs against Vail said the resort is trying to blame the victim for its own wrongdoing. The lawyer said Vail failed to close the slope to the public and post warning signs. The victim apparently entered an open gate in an unmarked area to access the slope.
Vail Resorts previously was faced with a lawsuit over a fatality involving an employee-driven snowmobile crash. That case resulted in an out-of-court settlement, following a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed wrongful death negligence damages to exceed amounts outlined in the Ski Safety Act.
The same attorney is working to have a judge reconsider the Winter Park civil action. The legal adviser believes the disparity between the two wrongful death decisions at the lower court level may push a review of the state Ski Safety Act back to the state high court. The lawyer asserted that no skier could "reasonably expect" an inbounds avalanche.
Laws decide the limits of responsibility. When negligence-related laws are unclear, victims and their families may be robbed of rightful damages in a personal injury or wrongful death suit.
Source: aspenbusinessjournal.com,"2 Colorado judges differ on inbounds avalanche risk," Bob Berwyn, Jan. 13, 2013