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Ski Resort's Waiver Not Binding: Ore. Supreme Court

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 23, 2014 5:49 AM

Injured skiers and snowboarders got a win in the Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday; the state's highest court ruled that a ski resort's blanket liability waivers were not enforceable.

The ruling focused on the case of Myles Bagley, a snowboarder who was paralyzed in 2006 after an accident at the Mount Bachelor terrain park near Bend, Oregon. The Associated Press reports that Bagley had his injury claim against the ski resort thrown out of a lower court, because his lift ticket and season pass contained a liability waiver.

Why did the Oregon Supreme Court find that the waiver wasn't binding?

Waiver Was 'Unconscionable'

Liability waivers are a part of just about any athletic activity we participate in; check out your gym membership agreement sometime. However, depending on how they are written, liability waivers may not be enforceable -- especially if they attempt to insulate a company from all liability from an injury.

In its ruling in Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., the Oregon Supreme Court found that the liability waiver that Bagley entered into with Mount Bachelor was unconscionable. The court waxed philosophical on how a contract provision -- especially one as unambiguous and conspicuous as Mount Bachelor's -- could be considered unenforceable in light of public policy.

While skiers and snowboards are engaging in a dangerous recreational activity and in many ways are assuming the risks of injury in their winter sports, it goes too far to remove all liability for the resort's negligence, the court explained.

The resort still has common law duties with respect to not creating hazards for its business invitees, but the waiver sought to insulate the resort for negligence in maintaining or installing its ramps or chairlifts.

Bagley's Case Not Over Yet

While it was a victory for Bagley to have the court remove the barrier to pursue a lawsuit imposed by the liability waiver, he isn't out of the snow-covered woods yet. His case has been remanded to the trial court where he was denied four years ago; it may proceed to a jury trial.

Then again, perhaps this recent decision will prompt the ski resort to settle with Bagley before the case goes that far.

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