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The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which a woman, despite signing a liability release, successfully brought claims against a ski resort for injuries she suffered when falling from a ski lift. The court granted allocatur yesterday in Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort and offered four different issues to be briefed. A Superior Court panel ruled in November that a signed liability release form between a skier and a ski resort does not necessarily supersede an oral agreement between a ski lift operator and a skier to stop a lift before she boarded. In granting allocatur, the court said it would look at whether the lower court erred in ruling that negligence must be defined and whether an example of negligence must be illustrated within the liability release form. The two sides in Chepkevich will also have to address whether the Superior Court erred in not concluding that “injuries incurred while boarding a ski lift are inherent to the sport and that [Chepkevich] assumed the risk as a matter of law.” A Somerset County trial judge had agreed with Hidden Valley Resort that it was not liable for injuries obtained by Lori T. Chepkevich and her nephew when they were boarding a ski lift. The judge granted the resort’s motion for summary judgment, which was overturned by the Superior Court. In an opinion by Judge Correale F. Stevens, the court said that there was a question of fact as to whether there was a breach of an oral agreement and whether it could void the signed release from liability form. The panel had also taken issue with the validity of the release, given that there was no definition of negligence, according to the Superior Court’s opinion. The form said that by accepting a season pass, the skier agrees not to sue the resort or its employees if injured, “regardless of any negligence” on the part of the resort. The release also includes the use of ski lifts as part of the accepted risks of skiing, according to the opinion. Chepkevich and her 6-year-old nephew Nicholas were skiing at Hidden Valley Resort in December 2001 when they went to ride the chairlift back to their condominium. Chepkevich was concerned that Nicholas would have a difficult time getting on the lift because of his small size and lack of skiing experience, according to court documents.She asked the lift operator to slow the lift, and the operator agreed to stop it. He stopped the lift on the side of the pulley opposite from where Chepkevich and Nicholas were and told her that he would bring the chair around closer to them and stop it so they could get on, Stevens said. When the lift arrived on their side, the operator did not stop or slow it, but attempted to place Nicholas on the seat. The operator could only get Nicholas on the edge of the seat, and the child began to slip. Chepkevich tried to pull him onto the chair and yelled to the operator to stop the lift, but he did not, according to the opinion. The lift continued for a time as Nicholas continued to slip and eventually he and Chepkevich fell off the lift to the ground. The resulting lawsuit was for injuries suffered by Chepkevich and a loss of consortium claim from her husband. In the suit, Chepkevich alleged that there was an agreement made between the lift operator and herself that the operator would stop the lift twice, not once, according to the opinion. Templeton Smith Jr. of Thomson Rhodes & Cowie in Pittsburgh represented Lori and Jeff Chepkevich. He said he was disappointed that the Supreme Court granted allocatur, but said the court raised several important topics to be addressed. One of those questions is whether the Superior Court’s ruling is in conflict with the lower court’s 2006 ruling in Nissley v. Candytown Motorcycle Club in terms of the validity and enforceability of an exculpatory agreement. The Superior Court based its ruling on its 2006 decision in Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee Inc., in which the court ruled that because it couldn’t conclude as a matter of law whether a release was enforceable, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. In Beck-Hummel, Stevens said, the court noted that releases are generally not favored in the law. Jamie L. Lenzi of Cipriani & Werner in Pittsburgh represented Hidden Valley Resort. She was unavailable for comment by the time of publication.

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