Liability Waiver Saves Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort from Injured Snowboarder

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Plaintiff Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis was involved in a tragic snowboarding accident at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. On her last run of the day, she collided with a snowcat pulling a snow-grooming tiller and got caught in the tiller. The accident resulted in the amputation of her left leg, several skull fractures and facial lacerations, among other serious injuries. She and her husband, Bruno Michiulis, appeal after the trial court granted defendant Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s (Mammoth) motion for summary judgment finding the operation of the snowcat and snow-grooming tiller on the snow run open to the public was an inherent risk of snowboarding and did not constitute gross negligence. Plaintiffs contend the trial court improperly granted Mammoth’s motion for summary judgment and improperly excluded the expert declarations plaintiffs submitted to oppose the motion. They also assert the trial court improperly denied their motion to transfer venue to Los Angeles County.

However, the Court held:

“We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the expert
declarations. Further, although snowcats and snow-grooming tillers are capable of
causing catastrophic injury, as evidenced by Willhide-Michiulis’s experience, we
conclude this equipment is an inherent part of the sport of snowboarding and the way in
which the snowcat was operated in this case did not rise to the level of gross negligence.”

“Because of this conclusion, the trial court properly granted Mammoth’s summary
judgment motion based on the liability waiver Willhide-Michiulis signed as part of her
season-pass agreement. With no pending trial, plaintiffs cannot show they were
prejudiced by the court’s denial of their motion to transfer venue.”

With that, the appellate court affirmed the granting of summary judgment and the plaintiff’s case was thrown out.  So, the takeaway is: though there are limitations to the scope of liability waivers, if the risk encountered is an “inherent part” of the recreational activity, the waiver is likely going to apply.

Eric Papp, Esq.

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