By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — Senate Bill 849 adds terrain parks, avalanches and falling into tree wells as risks that are inherent to skiing and would make ski resorts immune from lawsuits stemming from those injuries.

Chief sponsors: Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend; Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend

History: The Oregon Supreme Court in December ruled that Myles Bagley could pursue his $21.5 million lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor after he was paralyzed in a terrain park accident, despite signing a liability waiver.

What’s next: Heard Monday in Senate Judiciary Committee; both sides will meet and discuss middle ground. No hearing or timeline scheduled.

Online: Read the bill at https://olis.leg.state.or.us

SALEM — The mother of a man paralyzed after hitting a jump in a Mt. Bachelor terrain park said a bill that would grant ski areas immunity from liability in some accidents is too broad and doesn’t take skier safety into account.

Senate Bill 849, sponsored by five lawmakers from districts that include resorts on Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor, would update the conditions that prevent skiers from suing Oregon’s 13 ski areas for injuries resulting from what are called “inherent risks of skiing.”

The bill updates a 1979 law to include terrain parks, avalanches and falling into tree wells as risks that skiers should assume could occur at ski areas, therefore exempting the resorts from liability.

Skiers could still sue resorts for incidents resulting from gross negligence from the resort and its employees.

Lauren Bagley told lawmakers hearing the bill Monday that in the eight years she’s spent pursuing her son’s lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor, she’s learned the ski industry is stubborn to change, and that it would grant too much immunity to Oregon ski areas.

“I’ve also learned through these long years battling through the courts a consistent attitude of the ski industry. They’re all in denial. It’s always about money,” Bagley said.

Myles Bagley, who was injured after hitting a jump in 2006 when he was 18, attended the hearing but didn’t testify.

In a unanimous decision in December, the Supreme Court decided the Bagleys could pursue a $21.5 million lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor because the resort’s liability waiver was unenforceable. The Supreme Court said it was the “common-law duty” for Mt. Bachelor to inspect its terrain park features to avoid what it called unreasonable risks to its skiers and sent the case back to the Deschutes County Circuit Court.

Kathryn Clarke, an attorney on the legal team representing Myles Bagley in the lawsuit, said the bill would make resorts immune from claims for potentially hazardous conditions created by the resort and its employees, such as terrain park features.

“When a ski area has not exercised reasonable care in the management and operation of the ski area and someone is harmed because of their wrongful conduct, they should be held accountable,” Clarke said.

Industry representatives who support the bill said after the hearing skiers should expect costs to rise starting next season as the industry adjusts to the Bagley decision.

“If SB 849 isn’t passed, moving into next winter every ski area operator is going to have to address the fact that it’s likely that their insurance premiums and their legal fees are going to skyrocket,” said Dave Rathbun, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor.

Rathbun said Bachelor expects its insurance costs and legal fees to “potentially quintuple” next year and that resorts pass on added costs to skiers. He wouldn’t say how much he expects costs to rise.

“When you look at Willamette Pass or Hoodoo (Ski Area) who haven’t been open and think about them potentially seeing their costs go up two, three, four, five times coming off of two poor years, what’s that going to do to their business?” Rathbun said.

The proposed updates to the state’s 1979 Skier Responsibility Law would define a skier as someone who uses skis, a snowboard or any other sliding device. It also bars skiers from stopping on the hill in an area that creates a hazard or where they’re not visible from above. It also says skiers must inspect freestyle terrain, including terrain parks, before hitting them.

Andy Balyeat, an attorney representing Mt. Bachelor in the Bagley case, said it’s reasonable to expect the Supreme Court decision in that case will lead to more lawsuits from injured skiers.

A California man filed suit in March against Hoodoo Ski Area on Santiam Pass for injuries he suffered in a tubing accident two years ago.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Balyeat, who also represents Hoodoo in the case. “This is a new situation for us. So we’ll have to let it unfold. But I think a fair inference is that we’re going to see increased claims.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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