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Ski Resort Waiver Leaves Skiers, Snowboarders With Less Protection

By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4) - A recent decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver says skiers and snowboarders may not have any protections if they're injured on the slopes.

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"It's a big deal to Colorado skiers and snowboarders and anybody that comes to the state to ski. The case said that lift ticket contains a waiver on the back, in very very small print, most people don't even know it's there, and that waiver says that you can't sue Vail or any other ski area if you're injured for any reason on the mountain," said Trent Ongert.

Ongert is one of the attorneys representing Dr. Teresa Brigance. Brigance took a ski lesson at Keystone in 2015.

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CBS4's Jeff Todd interviews Trent Ongert. (credit: CBS)

"She did the magic carpet ride a couple of times and then the instructor took her, and the rest of the class up on a lift called the discovery lift," Ongert said. "She tried to stand up and couldn't stand up at all."

Brigance's boot got trapped between the lift and the snow in the unloading area at the top of the lift, unable to move, her femur snapped.

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"She questioned whether or not she got proper instructions for unloading from the lift, and we found out during the case the ski instructor had actually been moved up from the daycare center and didn't receive all the training on how to be a ski instructor," Ongert claimed.

The plaintiffs also felt there were safety issues with the discovery lift, but the resort said it had been inspected and certified by the state just days before the incident.

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The 10th Circuit ruled the resort was protected because Brigance bought a ticket, with a waiver, and signed a second waiver at the ski school releasing liability.

"There's a skier safety act in Colorado. It specifically says what the resorts are liable for and what the skiers are liable for. The waivers completely take that out now. They say you cannot hold the ski resort responsible for any kind of injury at all," Ongert said. "Yes, the resort can be completely negligent in hurting you and you have no recourse whatsoever."

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Court documents highlight the release of liability and waiver of certain legal rights:

"I expressly acknowledge and assume all additional risks and dangers that may result in... physical injury and/or death above and beyond the inherent dangers and risks of the activity, including but not limited to: Falling; free skiing; following the direction of an instructor or guide; . . . equipment malfunction, failure or damage; improper use or maintenance of equipment; . . . the negligence of Participant, Ski Area employees, an instructor . . . or others; . . . lift loading, unloading, and riding; . . . . I UNDERSTAND THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RISKS IN THIS AGREEMENT IS NOT COMPLETE AND VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE FOR PARTICIPANT TO PARTICIPATE IN AND EXPRESSLY ASSUME ALL RISKS AND DANGERS OF THE ACTIVITY, WHETHER OR NOT DESCRIBED HERE, KNOWN OR UNKNOWN, INHERENT OR OTHERWISE."

Vail Resorts sent CBS4 a statement:

"Vail Resorts is in agreement with the ruling earlier this week by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and believes this was a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision, consistent with well-settled Colorado law. The Company continues to place the highest value on the safety of its guests and as such, complies with all industry safety standards. As with many recreational activities, there are risks involved with skiing and snowboarding.

Vail Resorts disagrees with the factual characterizations of the plaintiff counsel's recently-issued press release, including the statement's unfounded accusations about the safety of this lift. This lift is safe, and complies with all industry safety standards. Shortly before this alleged incident, the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board had conducted a routine inspection and did not find safety concerns with the operation of the lift.

Colorado's public policy has routinely enforced agreements that waive or release potential legal claims arising from recreational activities. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed this principle, applying factors of well-established Colorado law that govern the validity of waiver agreements, finding that Vail Resorts' waiver agreement is valid and enforceable."

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he's been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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