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Just in time for ski season, Pennsylvania’s highest court has ruled that a teenage girl who was injured when another skier collided with her while the teen was skiing toward a ski lift assumed the risk when she purchased her lift ticket. The ruling is an issue of first impression. “Appellee voluntarily entered into a business relationship with appellant,” Justice Ronald D. Castille wrote for the unanimous court in Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm Inc., PICS Case No. 00-2363 (Pa. Dec. 5, 2000) Castille, J. (12 pages). “She chose to purchase a ski ticket from appellant and to ski on appellant’s slopes even though one of the inherent risks, a risk of which she was well aware, was that of a collision with another skier. “As a matter of law, under the Skier’s Responsibility Act, and the assumption of risk doctrine, which it preserves, appellant is entitled to summary judgment.” Charity Hughes, who described herself as an intermediate-level skier, went to Seven Springs in Champion, Pa., on a trip with her high school ski club on Jan. 29, 1992. She had just completed a run down the mountain and was skiing toward the ski lift when another skier coming down the mountain collided with her. Hughes received injuries to her knee and back. She filed suit against Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The Fayette County Court of Common Pleas had awarded summary judgment to Seven Springs. Judge Conrad B. Capuzzi said Hughes assumed the risk of possibly colliding with another skier and noted that she had signed an agreement releasing the resort of any liability. The Superior Court reversed, ruling that Hughes’ injury may not have been caused by an event inherent in the sport of skiing. The court also ruled that the release that Hughes signed pertained only to any injury that might arise from the ski equipment. The middle appeals court remanded the case for trial. The late Judge Vincent A. Cirillo dissented in the case, asserting that “downhill skiing” applied to all activities related to the sport, including skiing in a common area to a ski lift. The resort appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court noted that this was the first time it had addressed the common law assumption of the risk doctrine in downhill skiing cases. SKIER RESPONSIBILITY After the General Assembly drafted the Comparative Negligence Act, it amended it to include the Skier’s Responsibility Act, specifically addressing injuries arising from downhill skiing and preserving the assumption of the risk doctrine in downhill skiing cases. Castille said the doctrine “has been the subject of some criticism” and after examining pertinent case law, he said the court had a two-pronged approach to analyzing Hughes’ case. First, the court had to determine whether the teen was actually engaged in the sport of downhill skiing when she was injured. If so, the court would then have to determine if being hit by another skier constituted an “inherent risk” of downhill skiing. If deemed an “inherent risk,” Hughes would therefore be precluded from getting compensation because it would be determined that she assumed the risk under the act. Hughes argued that the act did not apply because she was not in the process of downhill skiing but was instead “propelling herself towards the ski lift at the base of the mountain following a downhill run.” The court said to adopt Hughes’ interpretation would be to approach the act in an “extremely narrow, hypertechnical and unrealistic manner.” “Obviously, the sport of downhill skiing encompasses more than merely skiing down a hill,” Castille said. “It includes those other activities directly and necessarily incident to the act of downhill skiing. Such activities include boarding the ski lift, riding the lift up the mountain, alighting from the lift, skiing from the lift to the trail and, after a run is completed, skiing toward the ski lift to start another run or skiing toward the base lodge or other facility at the end of the day.” Castille said even though Hughes was not skiing on a “downhill plane,” she was still actively engaged in the sport. “Under appellee’s theory, a skier who has temporarily stopped in the middle of a slope would no longer be engaged in the sport of downhill skiing,” Castille wrote. “Such a tortured and artificial interpretation of the act and the sport would defy common sense and lead to absurd results.” ASSUMPTION OF RISK The court then turned to examining whether the risk of colliding with another skier at the bottom of a slope is an inherent risk to skiing. The court determined such a risk was indeed common to the sport. “As the undisputed facts here amply demonstrate, the point at which the ‘downhill’ portion of a particular ski run ends depends upon the speed, control and judgment of the skier,” Castille wrote. “The possibility that one skier may collide with another in this common area at the base of the slope is one of the common risks of the sport of downhill skiing. As such, we hold, appellant had no duty to protect appellee against this inherent risk.” The high court’s opinion reversed the Superior Court’s decision and reinstated the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Seven Springs.

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