Winter Park skier death case under appeal
Ryan Summerlin April 5, 2013
A wrongful death suit that was filed May 10, 2012, in Grand County District Court by the family of Christopher Norris, a skier who was killed Jan. 22, 2012, after being caught in an avalanche while skiing at Winter Park Resort, is now being taken to the Colorado Court of Appeals after the court ruled in favor of the resort and dismissed the case.The court found the avalanche that caught and killed Norris was an “inherent risk of skiing” and therefore gave the resort immunity from suit under the Skier Safety Act of 1979 (SSA).The court’s findings followed a filing of a motion for determination of law and judgment on the pleadings that sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, which was filed on Aug. 17, 2012, by Kimberly Viergever of the Rietz Law Firm LLC, the firm representing Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation. The defendant also asked the court to enact the limit of damages that could be awarded to $250,000, which is part of the Skier Safety Act.After the court had ruled in favor of the resort, the plaintiff, who is being represented by Jim Heckbert of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine P.C., filed a motion for reconsideration of the court’s order arguing that the Skier Safety Act was ambiguous and therefore could be read in a way that would hold the resort liable for Norris’s death. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, finding that the Skier Safety Act is unambiguous.The plaintiff’s original complaint claimed that the death of Norris was due to the resort’s negligence for not closing the Topher Tree area of the resort on a day when it was aware of high avalanche danger. The complaint also claimed that Winter Park Resort officials “had the duty to close those areas within its boundary which it knew or should have known posed an avalanche hazard to skiers under the conditions existing on January 22, 2012.”The plaintiff argued that “Because the risk of avalanche on January 22, 2012, could have been eliminated through the use of reasonable safety measures, the risk was not an inherent danger of skiing.” The plaintiff also argued “While it may be argued that death by avalanche is an inherent risk of backcountry skiing, the same cannot be said for skiing an open trail within a ski area boundary.”Avalanches are not listed in the Skier Safety Act as an inherent risk of skiing and the plaintiff argued that avalanches cannot be inferred as an inherent risk of skiing from other language in the statute. On Dec. 26, 2012, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and “dismissed the plaintiff’s claims, finding that the inbound avalanche that killed Mr. Norris is an inherit risk of skiing, leaving the plaintiff with no remedy for the death of Mr. Norris,” according to the notice of appeal filed by the plaintiff on March 19.The issues that will be raised in the appeal are “whether the trial court erred as a matter of law by adding ‘in-bounds avalanche’ to the list of ‘inherent risks of skiing’ under the Skier Safety Act,” and whether the trial court erred by limiting the amount of economic and non-economic damages to $250,000.