The question of whether Colorado ski resorts can be liable for avalanches that happen within their boundaries comes before the state’s high court this week in a lawsuit prompted by a skier’s death.
The case involves the death of Christopher Norris, 28, who was killed in 2012 when he was caught in a small avalanche at the Winter Park ski resort. Norris’ widow is suing the ski area’s operator, Intrawest Resorts Holdings Inc., arguing that the resort should have closed the area where the avalanche happened.
Attorneys present arguments to the Colorado Supreme Court Tuesday in a case with potentially far-reaching implications for the state’s $3-billion-a-year ski industry. A ruling could take months.
Lower courts have sided with Intrawest, concluding the company isn’t responsible because state law says skiers willingly take a risk on the slopes and avalanches are among the inherent dangers. But attorneys for Norris’ widow, Salyndra Fleury, argue resorts should be responsible for avalanches that happen in areas they maintain.
Colorado’s industry standard Ski Safety Act limits a resort’s liability to $250,000 in lawsuits filed by the family of those killed. That cap has been tested many times since the legislation was enacted in 1979, but no jury or court ever has awarded injured skiers or bereaved families more than $250,000.
The Colorado Court of Appeals said in its ruling favoring Intrawest that the avalanche was caused by new snowfall, weak and unstable snowpack, and a steep slope, all circumstances covered under state law.
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