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Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 13, 2017

TERESA BRIGANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
VAIL SUMMIT RESORTS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Teresa Brigance (“Plaintiff”) brings this personal injury case against Defendant Vail Summit Resorts, Inc. (“Defendant” or “VSRI”) pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 84.) As explained below, the Court concludes that exculpatory waiver agreements to which Plaintiff agreed are enforceable and bar all of Plaintiff's claims, and Defendant's motion is therefore granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed, unless attributed to one party or to specific evidence cited.

         Defendant VSRI operates Keystone Mountain Resort (“Keystone”), where Plaintiff and her family visited to ski in March 2015. On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff took a ski lesson offered by VSRI at Keystone. Prior to beginning ski lessons, participants were required to sign a liability waiver (the “Ski School Waiver” (ECF No. 84-2)). Plaintiff's husband also purchased a lift ticket, which Plaintiff received and used to ride the Keystone lifts. (ECF No. 84 at 4-5, ¶¶ 13-15, 19-20; ECF No. 99 at 4, ¶¶ 13-15, 19-20.) The back of the lift ticket also contained a liability waiver (the “Lift Ticket Waiver”). (ECF No. 84-3.) (The facts and evidence related to the Ski School Waiver and the Lift Ticket Waiver are central to the Court's analysis and are addressed in greater detail in Parts III.A-B, below.)

         After initially riding a “magic carpet” surface lift, Plaintiff boarded the Discovery chairlift (“Discovery Lift”). As stated by VSRI, the Discovery Lift “is the chairlift [at Keystone] that services skiers and snowboarders learning to ski.” (ECF No. 84 at 5, ¶ 21.) The Discovery Lift was the lowest chair to the ground at Keystone. (ECF No. 99 at 8, ¶ 7; ECF No. 104 at 8, ¶ 7.) The distance between the chair and the snow surface, as posted at the loading point, was 15 inches. (ECF No. 84 at 5, ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff fell and unfortunately broke her leg while unloading from the Discovery Lift. (Id. at 6, ¶ 34.) More specifically, as she described in her deposition testimony, her ski boot “became wedged under the chair” as she was attempting to unload. (ECF No. 84-4 at 34.) She “stood up, but . . . couldn't get away from the chair because my ski boot was still wedged . . . . [a]nd then the chair catapulted me forward, and I heard my leg snap, and then I fell to the ground.” (Id.)

         This lawsuit followed. As alleged by Plaintiff and her expert, the low height of the Discovery Lift, created a “pinch point” at the unloading area. (See generally ECF No. 99 at 18-20.) Plaintiff claims that this condition, together with allegedly inadequate instruction she received from her ski school instructor regarding lift unloading, and the failure of the lift operator to stop the lift, caused her injuries. (See generally Id. at 1-2, 17-24.) The Court previously dismissed certain of Plaintiff's claims. (See ECF No. 38.) Plaintiff's remaining claims against VSRI are brought pursuant to Colorado's Premises Liability Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-115, and for negligent training, supervision, and hiring of VSRI's employees (namely, the ski school instructor and the operator of the Discovery Lift). (See ECF No. 106 at 1-6.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Henderson v. Inter-Chem Coal Co., Inc., 41 F.3d 567, 569 (10th Cir. 1994). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or, conversely, is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

         A fact is “material” if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense; a factual dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court must resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party, thus favoring the right to a trial. Houston v. Nat'l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The decisive arguments center on whether Plaintiff's claims are barred by the terms of the Ski School Waiver and/or the Lift Ticket Waiver. The Court sets out background relevant to each before analyzing whether they are enforceable in these circumstances.

         A. Ski ...


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