Bear Valley Decision Reaffirms Assumption of Risk Doctrine

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SAM Magazine-Calaveras County, Calif., April 10, 2006-A court here ruled late last week that Bear Valley Ski Company is not liable for a 2000 terrain park accident that left former employee Charlene Vine paralyzed from the waist down. Vine had sued the ski resort after she broke her spine in 2000 during an employee party while attempting to ride her snowboard off of a jump. The decision is important because it reaffirms the assumption of risk doctrine. A contrary verdict could have caused great uncertainty over liability issues regarding terrain parks.

The trial was the second for this incident. In 2002, a court awarded Vine $4.4 million after jurors were told to make their decision based on comparative negligence, rather than the assumption of risk doctrine that has largely applied in such situations. That initial settlement was voided in 2004 when a state appeals court ruled that jurors were not properly instructed on assumption of risk. In the most recent trial, jurors were instructed to apply the doctrine, and they ruled in favor of Bear Valley.

The area's attorney, Peter Koenig, termed the decision "consistent with previous decisions based on assumption of risk." He lauded the testimony of expert witnesses Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson and John Rice for describing the state of the sport, and specifically terrain parks.

It is not known whether Vine will appeal the latest decision.


Unfortunate, but necessary

While the injury was tragic, I believe the courts decision was just. Bad things happen to good people, and the deep pockets should not have to pay.

I is good to see that other industry leaders such as John Rice got involved -- we all need to ban together and protect our sport from the 're-distribution of wealth' mentality.

My heart goes out to the injured and her family, and a pat on the back goes out to Mr. Koenig and the Bear Vally risk management team.

Ken Gensel, Chairman
USA Ski Bike Alliance