C&W is pleased to report a major success in its appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of its resort client in a personal injury action brought by a skier who fell while boarding a ski lift. The issues before the Court were whether a skier may sue the resort for negligence or whether suit is barred by the exculpatory release signed by the skier and the no-duty/assumption of the risk defense of the Skier’s Responsibility Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A.§ 7102(c). The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Superior Court reinstating the skier’s complaint and held in favor of the resort that the skier’s suit was barred on both grounds.
What It Means to You
The ruling is significant as it is the top Court’s first full discussion of exculpatory releases in 17 years. Chief Justice Castille’s opinion restates, clarifies, and upholds the law of release, critically reversing the Superior Court 3 judge panel, 2of whom now sit on the Supreme Court. The Court held that exculpatory releases used by commercial facilities (amusement/sports/recreation) are not contracts of adhesion or unconscionable as a matter of law. Whether or not the signer actually reads what they sign, if it is sufficient in size and type and brings home the fact that the signer is giving up the right to sue even for negligence of the facility or its employees, the release bars the claim. The Court found the release at issue sufficient to bar Chepkevich’s suit and rejected the Superior Court’s conclusion that it was unenforceable because it did not illustrate or give examples of negligence. The Court also reaffirmed its seminal decision in Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm (also successfully litigated by C&W before the Supreme Court) by insisting on a no-nonsense approach to what constitutes an “inherent risk” in amusement/sports/recreation cases for application of the no-duty rule. The Court held that if the injury results from a risk that is common, frequent, or expected, it is an inherent risk, and, thus, no duty is owed to protect against it. The Court held that the risk of falling from the lift was an inherent risk because it is simply an aspect of how the sport is done. Thus, the release and the no-duty rule were both applicable to bar Chepkevich’s suit. Please contact Mr. Cipriani or Ms. Lenzi for a full summary of the lengthy opinion at 412-563-2500.