Friday, February 21, 2014

Connecticut General Assembly to Consider Bill to Implement Additional Ski Safety Standards: Will it Reduce Ski Facility Operators’ Liability or is it All Downhill From Here?

       Skiing is a popular winter activity, but hitting the slopes can be a risky endeavor. Connecticut law currently requires skiers and ski facility operators to take certain safety precautions. This legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly will consider a bill that would require skiers to assume responsibility for properly using restraint bars while riding on ski lifts. Although the proposed legislation would limit a ski facility owner’s liability if skiers are injured by not properly using the restraints, ski facility owners and skiers are still responsible for complying with the current safety protocols. In fact, in a recent Hartford Courant article, Representative Janice Giegler, who introduced the bill, noted that many ski areas in Connecticut already utilize the proposed safety practices, but the legislation is necessary to formally codify the standards. 

            Raised Bill No. 5148, “An Act Concerning Ski Safety,” mandates that ski facility operators install restraint devices on ski lifts, post instructions so that skiers know how to properly use the restraint devices, and post notices stating that skiers are required by law to use the devices. The bill also includes a provision that would require ski facility operators to apply protective padding to hydrant snow-making equipment and lift towers located within the boundaries of the ski area.

            Although this bill would improve ski safety, it would not dramatically alter the current law. This is because the proposed legislation still incorporates all of the safety requirements presently codified in Connecticut General Statutes §§ 29-211 and 29-213. For example, ski facility operators will still need to mark trail maintenance vehicles so that skiers can see them, identify trail and slope entrances with markers, and mark lift towers located on trails or slopes that are not readily visible, among other safety measures. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-211). Similarly, skiers will still be legally required to refrain from throwing objects from ski lifts, interfering with the operation of ski lifts, and placing objects in the ski area that may cause other skiers to fall, among other prohibitions. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-213).

            Despite the implementation of these safety precautions, skiing can still be a dangerous activity, and generally, people participate at their own risk. Specifically, Connecticut General Statutes § 29-212 states that skiers assume the risks and legal responsibilities for any injuries that they suffer due to the “hazards inherent in the sport of skiing,” which may include variations in terrain, trees or objects not located in the boundaries of the ski trail, and collisions with other skiers. Nevertheless, if a ski facility operator is negligent in maintaining its facilities or implementing the legally required safety measures, it cannot necessarily avoid liability. In addition, ski facility operators cannot entirely avoid liability for their own negligent actions by requiring that skiers sign liability waivers.

            If you would like to know more about how the proposed legislation may impact your ski facility, the lawyers of Brown, Paindiris & Scott can answer your questions regarding Connecticut’s laws governing ski facilities and advise you on next steps.