If you were injured at a ski area or ski mountain in New Hampshire, you should immediately consult with an experienced New Hampshire ski accident attorney. Ski accident law is a niche practice area and your attorney should be intimately familiar with the unique challenges in these types of cases. Make sure your attorney is experienced in New Hampshire ski law; surrounding states like Massachusetts have important differences in their skiing-related statutes and case law. There are important notice requirements (see below) to preserve your claim.
Skiing is a major part of New Hampshire’s tourism economy. As such, the ski industry has a strong influence on state law. This influence resulted in the passage of RSA 225-A:24, which is New Hampshire’s ski immunity statute.
The Ski Statute completely immunizes a ski area from liability if a skier’s injury results from the so-called “inherent risks of skiing.” “Inherent risk” is defined quite broadly by the ski statute. The term includes: “variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees, stumps and other forms of forest growth or debris; terrain, lift towers, and components thereof (all of the foregoing whether above or below snow surface); pole lines and plainly marked or visible snow making equipment; collisions with other skiers or other persons.” Importantly, the immunity statute can protect a ski area from its own negligence.
Interpreting the ski statute requires statutory analysis and review of the applicable case law. Some negligent actions by ski areas are likely not immunized by the statute: for example, if a ski area employee is providing lessons or instruction in a negligent manner, the ski resort could be vicariously liable. See Adie v. Temple Mt. Ski Area, 108 N.H. 480 (1968).
The Ski Statute imposes some duties upon ski mountains, but those duties are primarily limited to requiring certain signage. Unlike other state ski laws, the New Hampshire statute does not require ski areas to refrain from the “negligent operation or maintenance” of their ski areas. See 32 Maine Revised Statutes § 15217(8)(a).
If you were injured on the ski slopes and think the accident may have been due to a ski resort’s negligence, contact us today for a free evaluation.
An important note: with regard to ski lifts (aka tramways), the Ski Statute does impose some substantive duties. Those duties are mostly found in the tramway board regulations and associated rules. If you were injured on a chairlift or ski tramway, the statute’s immunity provisions may not apply to your case. See Ford v. Black Mountain Tramways, 110 N.H. 20 (1969). Additionally, liability releases may be ineffective against ski lift injury lawsuits.
Ski lodges and the surrounding premises may also be the site of slip and fall injuries. The defendant ski mountain may argue that this type of injury is covered by the Ski Statute simply because it occurred at a ski resort. However, it is unlikely that RSA 225-A would apply to mere slip-and-fall injuries with only a tangential relation to skiing.
The New Hampshire Ski Statute only protects ski areas, not skiers themselves. So, if another skier collides with you due to their negligent skiing, you may have a direct claim against that person.
A claim for negligent skiing is covered by the personal liability portion of their homeowners insurance coverage. Thus, if another person injures you on the ski slopes, you may be able to reach a settlement if they have homeowners insurance.
If you have a season’s pass to the ski area where you were injured, you have most likely signed some sort of liability release or waiver. In may have been part of your application, and it could have been an online form.
Liability waivers are enforceable in New Hampshire under certain circumstances. New Hampshire Supreme Court has concluded that, in the context of skiing, liability releases do not violate public policy. See McGrath v. SNH Development (Crotched Mountain), 158 N.H. 540 (2009). That is true even if the ski area or its employees were negligent.
However, in order to effectively waive negligence claims, liability releases must be clear and specific. Typically, they explicitly disclaim liability for negligence. If you’ve signed a release, it doesn’t matter whether or not you read it. It may be effective anyway. In fact, in a recent federal decision, a New Hampshire court upheld an unsigned waiver on the back of a peel-off lift ticket (though, in our opinion, that case was wrongly decided). See Miller v. Sunapee Difference, LLC d/b/a Mount Sunapee Resort, 308 F. Supp. 3d 581 (D.N.H. 2018).
Every liability release is different. A lawyer must carefully analyze the language of the release and apply it to the circumstances of the case. In certain situations, liability releases can violate public policy, even in the context of skiing. For example, a release which abrogates a statutory cause of action is against public policy. Additionally, a claim for recklessness (if properly stated) cannot be waived by an exculpatory contract. Finally, if a parent signed or agreed to a liability waiver on behalf of their minor child, New Hampshire law indicates that the waiver will be unenforceable.
RSA 225-A:25 provides three important limitations. (1) There is a two year statute of limitations for skiing-related injuries, not the typical three years. (2) As a “condition precedent” to a lawsuit the ski area “shall be notified by certified return receipt mail within 90 days of said injury.” (3) Any lawsuit must be brought in the county where the ski area is located.
These requirements are somewhat hidden in the Ski Statute. It is not completely clear if they apply to all skiing-related claims, or only claims for violations of the statute. Some Superior Courts have concluded the latter. However, best practice is to follow the statutory requirements for any claim against a ski area. The most time-sensitive, of course, is the 90 day notification letter.
Nashua, New Hampshire Skiing Accident Attorneys
Welts, White & Fontaine, P.C. is well-versed in the intricacies of New Hampshire ski law. Our ski accident lawyers can help you evaluate your claim and represent you in a settlement demand or lawsuit. Contact us by clicking here or call us at (603) 883-0797 for a free consultation.
Author: Israel F. Piedra
This blog is intended for informational use only. The information contained herein should not be construed as offering legal advice or a legal opinion.