Ski Slope Accidents and New Jersey’s Ski Slope Statute
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New Jersey’s Ski Slope Statute was enacted to define the respective responsibilities of ski area operators and skiers, while taking into consideration that the sport of skiing and related activities involve certain risks that are impractical or impossible to eliminate. See New Jersey’s Ski Slope Statute, N.J.S.A. § 5:13-1 et seq.
The Act delineates which risks skiers voluntarily assume and “for which there can be no recovery.” See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-1. The inherent risks of skiing include the weather, conditions of trails and slopes, and other skiers.
Not all risks encountered while skiing are inherent risks of the sport. For example, a “clear and present danger…which ultimately resulted in plaintiff’s injury” and which the operator “simply neglected to remove” is not an inherent risk. See Reisman v. Great American Recreation, Inc., 266 N.J. Super. 87, 96 (App. Div. 1993). Accordingly, colliding with a drunken skier is not an inherent risk of skiing. See Reisman, 266 N.J. Super. at 95. Also, improper operation of a ski lift is not an inherent risk of skiing because it can be eliminated with due care. See Pietruska v. Craigmeur Ski Area, 259 N.J. Super. 532, 537 (Law Div. 1992). Finally, the Court determined that a jury could determine whether a concrete box connected to drainage system located adjacent to a ski slope is an inherent risk of skiing. See Brough v. Hidden Valley, Inc., 312 N.J. Super. 139, 148 (App. Div. 1998). Thus, the ability of a plaintiff to recover for personal injuries sustained while skiing depends, in large part, on whether the cause of the injury is characterized as an inherent risk of skiing.
Included in the Act is a notice requirement, whereby plaintiffs must provide the operator with notice of the claim in writing within 90 days of the accident. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-7. Failure to provide such notice may bar a plaintiff’s claim for personal injuries.
There is also a statute of limitations in Act, under which plaintiffs must file any action for injury or death no later than two years after the accident. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-8. This statute of limitations requirement applies regardless of whether the plaintiff’s claim sounds in tort law or breach of contract. See id. The only provision in the Act allowing for the tolling of the statute of limitations is when the accident involves a minor. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-9. In that scenario, the statute of limitations is tolled under the minor reaches the age of majority. See id.
The Act is significant because it is a complete bar to suit in two situations. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-6. First, there can be no recovery where the plaintiff’s injuries result from the assumed risks of skiing. Second, a plaintiff may not maintain a suit where the plaintiff’s injuries result from skiing activities, the skier failed to adhere to the skier responsibilities listed in the Act, and such failure is a contributory factor in the resulting injury.
Skiers must abide by the responsibilities listed in the Act in order to maintain a suit for personal injuries. See N.J.S.A. §§ 5:13-4 and 5:13-5. For example, skiers must conduct themselves within the limits of their ability. Skiers are assumed to know the range of their ability. Skiers must also refrain from conduct that may cause or contribute to the injury of themselves or others. Additionally, skiers must avoid dangers. For example, skiers must stay clear of snow grooming equipment, vehicles, lift towers, and any other equipment on the mountain. If a skier fails to abide by these requirements, he or she may be barred from suit.
The Act also imposes an actual or constructive knowledge requirement, which may prevent plaintiff’s suit. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-3. Pursuant to this provision, there is no liability unless the operator knew or should have known of the dangerous condition that caused the injury and had reasonable time to correct such condition.
One exception to the complete bar on recovery, however, is where the ski area operator was negligent. See N.J.S.A. § 5:13-6. If the operator violated its duties or responsibilities under the Act, then the comparative negligence of N.J.S.A. § 2A:15-5.1 et seq. applies and the plaintiff may successfully sue the ski area operator.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 5:13-6, the operator’s responsibilities under the Act include:
While the Act lists other responsibilities of ski area operators, the Court has held that such responsibilities are not exhaustive. See Reisman v. Great American Recreation, Inc., 266 N.J. Super. 87, 94-95 (App. Div. 1993). Thus, operators’ liability depends upon the cause of the skier’s injuries and whether such risks can be eliminated with due care.
New Jersey’s Ski Slope Statute, N.J.S.A. § 5:13-1 et seq.
New Jersey’s Ski Lift Safety Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:4A-1 et seq.
Brough v. Hidden Valley, Inc., 312 N.J. Super. 139, 148 (App. Div. 1998).
Pietruska v. Craigmeur Ski Area, 259 N.J. Super. 532, 537 (Law Div. 1992) (The Ski Slope Act does not apply to risks that can be eliminated and specifically, the Act’s notice requirement did not apply to negligent operation of ski lift.)
Reisman v. Great American Recreation, Inc., 266 N.J. Super. 87, 94-95 (App. Div. 1993).