A lawsuit that will begin trial next week could dramatically alter a law that protects Colorado’s ski industry.
The Colorado Sun reports that the Miller family is suing Vail Resorts for gross negligence and “willful and wanton conduct.”
In March 2022, Mike Miller was on a ski trip to Crested Butte with his daughter Annie. They went to board the Paradise Express chairlift, but Annie couldn’t get herself settled into the seat before the ascent. Despite people near the scene begging the workers to stop the lift, they allegedly didn’t do anything. Annie held onto the chair until she couldn’t, ultimately falling thirty feet onto the snow. Annie will never be able to walk again, as she suffered a bruised heart, lacerated liver, injuries to her lungs, and shattered C7 vertebrae.
A lawsuit was filed in December of 2022 with the Broomfield County District Court. This lawsuit was dismissed in April of 2023, but the family has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court. Arguments are set to begin next week. The gross negligence claim is still in the Broomfield County District Court, as they’re waiting for the Colorado Supreme Court to rule on this case.
What ultimately protects ski resorts in the state is the Colorado Ski Safety Act. This law limits the amount of damage an injured party can obtain to $250,000 and makes guests assume responsibility for the risks of the sport. It does limit protections for ski resorts though if the party can prove the operators engaged in gross negligence. The Miller family is requesting that the Colorado Supreme Court “consider whether a ski area in Colorado can create contractual immunity from statutory duty of care in a contract that is part of a ski lift pass.”
Vail Resorts is arguing that the Epic Pass agreement that the Miller family signed states that guests “have the physical dexterity and knowledge to safely load, ride and unload lifts,” thus protecting them from liability.
Vail Resorts and Crested Butte are receiving support from other members of the ski industry. In its brief, the National Ski Areas Association stated that the workers didn’t violate industry rules by not immediately stopping the lift. In its brief, Colorado Ski Country said that if the Miller family were to succeed, it “will decrease or eliminate altogether the availability of many recreational options for children, while simultaneously raising the costs of the remaining options.” Colorado Ski Countries’ brief was supported by the Colorado Camps Network and Colorado River Outfitters Association, as they rely on waivers to be able to allow kids who face financial hurdles to participate in recreational sports.
Ultimately, the lawsuit seems unlikely to succeed based on the reasons stated above, but it’ll still be interesting to see how things turn out.