I've now had a chance to read the primary source material on the case. if you've gotten this far in the thread, I'd highly recommend checking out the following:
the appeals court decision http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/docs/pdf/9/2011/2011-ohio-2239.pdf
Ohio Ski Law: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4169
The Supreme Court of Ohio's Decision http://www.legallyspeakingohio.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-ohio-5333-1.pdf
Both court decisions are quite readable and understandable, so I'd encourage folks to read it for themselves. that said, here's a brief summary from my perspective:
The Ohio revised Code, Chapter 4169 (RC 4169) lays out the duties and responsibilities of ski area operators and their customers while engaged in skiing. I hadn't read Ohio statutes before, but like most states' laws they're patterned after the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act which was the first one in the nation back in the 60s. so, nothing in these statutes came as much of a surprise. In Ohio, skiers have the following responsibilities:
RC 4169.08 part C
A skier shall have the following responsibilities:
(1) To know the range of the skier’s ability to negotiate any slope or trail or to use any passenger tramway that is associated with a slope or trail, to ski within the limits of the skier’s ability, to ski only on designated slopes and trails, to maintain control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, and to not cross the track of a passenger tramway except at a designated area;
(2) To refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of another person, to refrain from causing collision with any person or object while skiing, and to not place any object in a ski area that may cause another skier or a passenger to fall;
... (emphasis mine)
Basically, this incorporates the Skier's code into Ohio Law. Thus there is a legal obligation to follow the code - there seems to have been some confusion about this upthread. Hopefully this illuminates the matter.
So, what are the consequences of disobeying the code with the result that someone gets injured? It's right there under 4169.09 Liability for losses and damages.
A ski area operator, a tramway passenger, freestyler, competitor, or skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the operator’s, passenger’s, freestyler’s, competitor’s, or skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter.
That's a mouthful to parse, but what it says in a nutshell is:
A skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the skier's failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter.
This is the clear plain meaning of the language enacted by the Ohio Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. Skiers must follow the code; if they fail to follow it and someone gets injured they are liable for the damages.
The Ohio Supreme Court Ruling
Strangely, the Ohio Supreme Court twisted themselves into a pretzel to rule against the plain meaning given above. I've now read the decision 4 times, and i still can't follow their reasoning - seems to me that they're just making things up to reach a foregone conclusion. I'm not a lawyer, so maybe someone can explain it to me. Anyway, here's the gist of the decision.
The issue before the court is what duty or standard of care is owed
by one skier to another for purposes of determining tort liability. We hold that
skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other
skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other
skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
Thus, the Ohio Supreme court ruled that skiers owe no duty of care to one another as long as the actions fall short of reckless or intentional.
Fortunately, Ohio is an outlier here. Most other states (Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Utah, Vermont, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, West Virginia to name a few) do not provide such a broad immunity for skiers who injure others.
For instance, here's an excerpt from a ruling in Michigan involving the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), skier collisions, and "inherent risk". I think this basically get it right.
As we have already noted, we hold that the SASA assumption-of risk
provision contains clear and unambiguous language, providing
in no uncertain terms that a collision between skiers is an obvious
and necessary danger that inheres in the sport of skiing. However,
in those cases in which a plaintiff can establish that a defendant
violated one of the specific duties imposed by the SASA, the
plaintiff can still recover damages to the extent that the defendant's
violations caused the plaintiff's injuries. To state it differently, it is
possible, and therefore skiers assume the risk, that a collision can
occur between skiers when neither skier is violating his or her
duties under the SASA. That is, it is an obvious and necessary
danger of skiing that sometimes accidents simply happen. But,
again, if it can be shown that the collision resulted from a violation
of the act, then the violator is to be held liable for the damage
Most other states courts have come to a similar conclusion, for instance, a Connecticut court (in Jagger) had this to say while allowing a collision suit to proceed (seems to me that they get it right too).
While collisions with other skiers are fairly common, frequency of
occurrence is not the ultimate touchstone in evaluating the
expectations of participants in the sport. Rather, we perceive the
expectations of skiers to be that fellow participants in the sport will
conduct themselves in a manner befitting the dangerous
potentialities attendant with the sport. Thus, skiers will expect that
other skiers will follow the rules and generally accepted practices
of the sport of skiing. Indeed, our statutory scheme regarding ski
liability confirms that skiers should possess such expectations as
they take part in the sport. ... The normal expectations of skiers
will be that fellow skiers will ski in a reasonable and appropriate
...we conclude that the
balancing of the public policy of the encouragement of vigorous
participation in the sport of skiing and the protection of the safety
of its participants weighs in favor of a negligence standard. We
believe that requiring skiers to participate in the reasonable manner
prescribed by the rules of the sport actually will promote
participation in the sport of skiing. Should the threshold for
liability be placed at a level that only reckless or intentional
misconduct can serve as grounds for liability, many of the potential
harms caused by co-participants in the sport will go unremedied
and, therefore, dissuade potential participants from taking part in
the sport. Additionally, a standard of reasonableness also operates
to protect the safety of participants in the sport of skiing.
Justice Pfeifer's dissent is a doozy. He demolishes the majority opinion with an incisive combination of clear legal analysis and plain old common sense. i don't remember the last time I read something that so clearly articulated what I've been trying to say. Here are some excerpts, but I'd encourage everyone to read the whole thing;
I do not agree with the majority’s baffling interpretation of R.C. 4169.08 and
4169.09. I also do not agree that there is no common-law duty of care between
skiers. If legal issues were ski slopes, the one raised in this case would be a
bunny hill. Somehow, the majority has careened down the hill and wound up
smashed through the wall of the lodge.
In a skier collision case, the laws differ from state to state
on the duty of care one skier owes to another. ... The prevailing view holds
skiers to a standard of reasonable care to avoid injury to another
skier. The standard of care is usually founded on a statutory
principle obliging a skier to exercise reasonable care and to yield
the right of way to the skier below. One skier does not assume the
risk of another’s negligence; a skier collision is not a risk
“inherent” in the sport as skiing is not a contact sport.
R.C. 4169.09 that makes it crystal clear that a skier is
liable for injuries he causes to other skiers by failing to meet the duties set forth in
R.C. 4169.08(C): “A * * * skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or
property caused by the * * * skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities
required by this chapter.”
How can the majority ignore this simple statutory statement?
How can this mean anything other than that a skier is liable for
injuries suffered by another person as a result of the skier’s failure to meet his
statutory responsibilities? Why does this sentence appear in the statute if it does
not establish responsibilities between skiers?
(in the Michigan case cited above) The court noted that if it were to hold that there is no
liability for injuries to a skier caused by another skier’s failure to meet his or her
statutory duties, “the duties and liabilities placed on individual skiers would have
no meaning.” But the majority does in this case what (the MI court) warns
against, finding that the statutory provision—“A ... skier is liable for injury,
death, or loss to person or property caused by the ... skier’s failure to fulfill any
of the responsibilities required by this chapter”—is meaningless.
...the General Assembly has set forth a statutory duty of
ordinary care for skiers. Ingrained in that ordinary-care standard is the
recognition that skiers are on skis, are on a slippery surface, and are engaged in a
somewhat dangerous activity. R.C. 4169.08(C)(1) and (2) do not require expert
ability by all skiers; they require common sense and an appreciation of very basic
safety rules of skiing. When a skier fails to use ordinary care to meet the
responsibilities set forth in R.C. 4169.08(C), he is liable for any injuries caused by
his failure to live up to those rules of conduct, pursuant to R.C. 4169.09.
The case has now snowballed into a case that
eviscerates a statutory scheme that has well served the sport and industry of skiing
for a long time. The General Assembly ensured that we owe a greater duty, a
duty of ordinary care, to each other. The majority has removed that duty and
today has made skiing in Ohio appreciably more dangerous.
Whether you agree with the Ohio supreme Court or not, as the law now stands in Ohio skiers who collide with and injure another skier are immune from suits unless the plaintiff can claim the collision was reckless or intentional. This only holds in Ohio; in most of the rest of the US the standard is simple negligence. The more I read the Ohio ruling, the more i disagree with it - not just from the perspective of what the law should be, but also because the court seems to have ruled contrary to what Ohio law actually says. Hopefully, the legislature will fix this, meanwhile the places where I tend to ski seem to have gotten it right.
Bottom line is that almost everywhere in the US (but not Ohio), if you violate the skiers code and injure someone you may be held responsible in a court of law. If you want to ski without regard to following the code and without consequence if you injure someone, then please go ski in Ohio. And I mean that sincerely. (c: