News Search

Important Precedent Set in Oregon Ski Area Ruling

  • Push to The Latest: No

SAM Magazine—Portland, Ore., Dec. 20, 2022—Recreational use law was successfully used as a defense against a plaintiff seeking $1.5 million in a parking lot slip-and-fall claim against Hoodoo Ski Area in Oregon. Hoodo LogoASDA (Association of Ski Defense Attorneys) attorneys Brad Stanford and Trish Walsh of Portland firm Farleigh, Wada & Witt represented the ski area.

Recreational use statutes limit the liability of landowners if they make their land available for recreation free of charge. “Such statutes are designed to broaden and encourage recreational opportunities,” said Stanford, and this is the first time such a statute has been successfully invoked in a ski area liability claim. 

“While nearly every state has a variation of recreational use statutes—all fairly similar in language and intent,” explained NSAA director of risk and regulatory affairs Dave Byrd, “so far, there has been practically little application to injuries at ski areas where someone was accessing the property without being charged a fee. But this is a first, and it is even stronger precedent if it is upheld by the Oregon court of appeals.”  

The plaintiff may still appeal the trial judge’s ruling, the outcome of which could strengthen (or weaken) the precedent. As Stanford explained, “This decision is not binding in any other state. It is one decision by one trial court judge in Oregon, but it may be persuasive in other jurisdictions with similar statutes, particularly if this trial court decision is upheld by Oregon appellate courts.”

According to the claim, the plaintiff was walking from the lot to the lodge to buy a day ticket when he fell. He had not yet been charged any fees to access the area, and because Hoodoo allows general access to the ski area to park, hike, play in the snow, and uphill without a fee—a stipulation of its U.S. Forest Service permit—the trial court found in Hoodoo’s favor.

The ruling stated that the immunities of the Oregon recreational use statute “apply to all roads, all paths, trails and other rights of way while being used by a person to reach land that person intends to use for recreational purposes." 

“With this precedent, it’s another arrow in the ski resorts’ quiver of legal defenses,” said Byrd. “I can see recreational use statutes coming into play when someone skins uphill (without paying a fee), or a mountain biker accesses trails with an e-bike but doesn’t buy a lift ticket. Other scenarios could be parents watching a child in a competition without paying for a lift ticket, or snowplay or sledding in a base area, again without buying any ticket.”