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New Mexico Circuit Court Finds Mountain Resort Waiver of Liability Valid in Negligence Lawsuit

Posted in Firm News

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that an injured woman’s lawsuit against a ski resort was properly dismissed because she signed an exculpatory waiver of liability. While the accident did not happen in New Mexico, plaintiffs bringing New Mexico personal injury cases may still find the principles relevant.

The Facts of the Case

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2015 accident in which a woman and her family took a ski lesson at the defendant resort. In order to participate in the lesson, the plaintiff and her family were required to sign a liability waiver. Essentially, the release enumerated a list of exculpatory waivers to liability – including that the participant acknowledges and assumes all risks and dangers that may result in injury or death that are inherent to the activity. After signing this release and receiving some instruction, the woman boarded a ski lift but was unable to unload because her boot became wedged between the lift and the snow. She was able to stand up but could not disengage, and unfortunately, she was pushed forward and fractured her femur as she fell.

Procedural Background

The woman filed a lawsuit against the ski resort for the injuries she sustained. She argued that she was injured due to the inadequate instruction from her teacher and the chairlift operator’s negligence in not stopping the lift. She based her lawsuit on negligence, negligence per se, negligent supervision and training, respondeat superior, and negligent hiring.

The ski resort moved to dismiss almost all of her claims on the basis of the signed waiver and lift ticket waiver that the woman signed and to which she agreed. In the alternative, they argued that the woman also failed to allege any requirement of the Colorado Ski Safety Act that was violated. The district court agreed and dismissed the woman’s motion.

The Court’s Reasoning

The woman appealed the matter to a higher court, which ultimately agreed with the lower court. The court held that although “exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored” and cannot “shield against a claim for willful and wanton conduct,” this is different from claims of negligence. The court considered four factors when determining whether the exculpatory agreement is valid. These are:  1.) if there is a duty to the public, 2.) the nature of the service performed, 3.) whether it was a fair contract, and 4.) whether the intent was clearly and unambiguously made clear. Of course, the courts will also look at public policy concerns when making their decisions as well.

The Court’s Conclusion

The Circuit Court examined all of the four factors listed and ultimately agreed with the lower courts. In considering these factors, the Court found that the ski resort did not violate any of them in creating the contractual language, and as a result, the exculpatory waiver was enforceable.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident After Signing a Waiver?

New Mexico is known for having many fun and exciting adventure sports and activities. However, to participate in these activities, it is likely that an exculpatory waiver must be signed. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident while participating in an activity like the one above, you may still be entitled to compensation, even if you signed a waiver. These cases are complex and require a skilled and detail-oriented attorney to parse the liability waiver. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. To learn more, contact one of the New Mexico personal injury attorneys at the Fine Law Firm at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Reverses Summary Judgment, Permitting Plaintiff’s Untimely Affidavit, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2017.

Court Discusses Government Liability in Recent Personal Injury Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2018.