There is an assumption of risk when you put on skis, but does that mean someone who causes a collision shouldn't be held accountable?
It turns out to be a tricky questions - one that is being weighed by the Ohio Supreme Court. The case actually began on the slopes of Boston Mills-Brandywine. At issue is whether a then-14 year old and his family should be defendants in a lawsuit by the woman he injured in 2007.
Lawyers have been looking for a clear answer about legal definitions of negligence vs. recklessness as they are applied to skiing. The answer could determine if Horvath can move forward with a civil suit.
The justices took the arguments under advisement.
A more complete background on the case as provided by the Ohio Supreme Court is detailed below:
ISSUE: Do skiers and snowboarders using Ohio’s commercial ski slopes “assume the risk” of a possible collision with another skier or snowboarder as an inherent and ordinary hazard of the sport, and thereby waive the right to sue another skier for an injury arising from a collision unless they can show it was caused by reckless or intentionally harmful conduct? Or does a provision of state law that defines responsibilities of recreational skiers create a statutory “duty of care” under which one skier can sue another for conduct that is merely negligent?
BACKGROUND: Skier Angel Horvath was injured in a ski-slope collision with a teenage snowboarder, David Ish, at the Boston Mills Ski Resort in Summit County.
Horvath and her fiancé (now husband), Eugene Horvath, filed a civil lawsuit in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas seeking damages from Ish and his parents (because Ish was a minor at the time of the accident), based on claims that David’s collision with Angel and her injuries were the result of negligent, careless and reckless conduct by David.
The Ishes filed a pretrial motion for summary judgment dismissing the Horvaths’ claims. They argued that, under Ohio’s common law standard of liability applicable to sports and recreational activities, skiers and snowboarders are presumed to understand that those sports are inherently dangerous, and therefore to “assume the risk” of accidental injuries arising from their voluntary participation. Because Angel had assumed the risk of possible injury by sharing a ski slope with other skiers, they argued, she was not eligible to recover damages from David or his parents absent a showing that David had violated some statutory duty of care, or had acted recklessly or with the intent of causing injury.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Ishes, holding that there was no statutory duty in Ohio under which one skier could sue another for mere negligence, and that the evidence produced by the Horvaths did not raise a material question that David was acting recklessly or with intent to injure when he collided with Angel.
The Horvaths appealed. On review, the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, reinstated the Horvath’s claims, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
In a 2-1 majority opinion, the court of appeals held that a provision of state law, R.C. 4169.08(C), sets forth responsibities of skiers using commercial ski slopes, including the responsibility to “refrain from causing collision with any person or object while skiing” and to “refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of another person.” The appellate majority held that those provisions imposed a statutory duty on skiers to protect other skiers from injury, and said the trial court erred by granting summary judgment dismissing the Horvath’s claims that David had been negligent for failing to meet that legal duty. The majority also found that the pretrial evidence produced by the parties had raised a material question regarding whether David had acted recklessly, and that question should be resolved by a judge or jury.
The Ishes sought and were granted Supreme Court review of the Ninth District’s decision.
Attorneys for the Ishes argue that the court of appeals majority misinterpreted the language of R.C. 4169.08(C) by failing to read it in context with the rest of that statute and the legislative intent underlying its enactment. They contend that Chapter 4169 and similar statutes in many other northern states were enacted at the urging of ski resorts in reaction to a 1978 decision of the Vermont Supreme Court, Sunday v. Stratton Corp., which affirmed an award of $1.5 million against a ski resort, holding that the owners had been negligent for allowing skiers to use a slope on which some underbrush had poked through the covering snow and caught the ski of a patron.
They say that a reading of R.C. 4169.08 in its entirety shows the legislature’s intent was to indemnify ski slope operators against liability for negligence claims like the claim in Sunday by clarifying in Section (A) that “skiing as a recreational sport is hazardous to skiers regardless of all feasible safety measures that can be taken ... (and) that a skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for injury, death, or loss to person or property that results from the inherent risks of skiing...” They assert that the statute then goes on to enumerate in Section (B) the responsibilities of ski slope operators to their customers, and in Section (C) the responsibilities of skiers to resort operators to conduct themselves responsibly and refrain from conduct that could injure other resort guests.
When R.C. 4169.08 is read in context, they argue, it is clear that the Ninth District erred in reading the “responsibilities” set forth in Section (C) to establish a statutory “strict liability” standard for injuries skiers cause to other skiers that is totally inconsistent with the assumption of risk language in Section (A), and with the common law standard of liability Ohio applies to participants in every other type of sport or recreation.
Attorneys for the Horvaths respond that the Ninth District correctly reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment against them by applying the plain language of R.C. 4169.08(C), which imposes a statutory duty on all skiers to “refrain from causing collision” with other skiers or from engaging in “conduct that causes ... injury to another person.”
They urge the court to affirm the Ninth District’s holding that they are entitled to pursue a negligence claim against the Ishes for breach of the statutory duties imposed by Section (C) of the statute, and are also entitled to argue to a judge or jury that David’s snowboarding conduct that resulted in his collision with Angel was legally “reckless,” and therefore grounds for a lawsuit whether or not the Horvaths prevail on their negligence claims.