Laws typically hold ski area operators to a high standard of care in the operation, use and maintenance of ski lifts, trams and tows. American ski area operators have enhanced duties of care in connection with the design, installation, construction, maintenance, and operation of ski lifts. A skier injured in a ski lift accident can claim damages if the accident is due to faulty design, operation or maintenance (lift failure). If the accident is due to negligent operation, such as the failure to stop the lift to clear ramp, then the facts of the accident along with eye witness testimony will determine if the skier will prevail in a claim. Industry standards are plainly set out in the ANSI B-77 code.
Chair Lift Falls, Loading Accidents and Unloading Accidents
Over 90% of all lift cases arise while the skier is either loading or unloading and are a consequence of either Skier error or lift operator error rather than a design defect. The liability question is generally settled after balancing the operator’s duty to exercise the highest degree of care against the skier/ passenger’s duty to pay attention, have the requisite skills to board the lift, and to heed all posted information and instructions. Unloading accidents can be the result of an operator’s negligence caused by an inadequate ramp and snow maintenance and/or the failure to stop the lift when an obstacle is present on the onloading ramp or to allow known inexperienced skiers to exit safely.
Ski lifts, in the main, are relatively simple devices with established technology and a high degree of safety. However, given the large number of skiers annually using these lifts it is not surprising that after significant and repetitive cycles, design defects may catch up with the technology. Colorado, as with most ski states, has a law that ski area operators are obliged to operate their lifts in accord with the highest degree of care commensurate with the safety of the passengers. The issues of liability in ski lift cases, when the injury occurs after loading and before unloading, generally concern who is responsible. If the accident is the result of a failure, then the ski area operator may be liable for poor maintenance. But if the lift is a dangerous device, then liability may fall on an engineering, design or manufacturing firm for the defect.
Falls from chair lifts are not uncommon, and frequently result in catastrophic injuries. A passenger may fall when safety rules are ignored, such as deliberately swinging the chair or leaning out of the seat. But some ski lift falls result from no safety bars installed on the chair, and a sudden jolt is experienced along the chair lift line. These jolts can be caused by the operators of the lift, or from very high winds. When skiers misload, failing to securely sit on the chair before advancing from the loading area, they may find themselves dangling from a chair lift many feet above the ground – this scenario can be avoided when alert lift operators stop the lift quickly.
Case reports for recent ski lift accident cases.