The Facts

Ski resort operated triple chairlift

A ski resort in NSW operated a triple chairlift to take skiers from the lower part of the mountain to a higher part.  

The chairlift consisted of a series of chairs that could each accommodate three skiers side by side.  

Each chair had an arm rest at each end and a safety bar running from one side of the chair to the other that could be raised and lowered.  

Each chair was suspended from an overhead cable, which was constantly moving, and ran around large wheels called "bullwheels" at the bottom and top stations of the chairlift.  

Skiers board triple chairlift at load line with safety bar raised

Skiers would board the chairlift by standing at the loading point on a line marked on the snow, called the load line.  

The space between chairs rounding the bullwheel and approaching the loading point was configured so that immediately after one loaded chair departed, up to three skiers could position themselves on the load line to sit on the next chair.  

When on the load line, the skiers had to look behind for the approaching empty chair and, when it arrived with the safety bar up, sit down on the chair.  

When the safety bar is down, skiers are unable to board the chair because the bar is in the way. 

Experienced skier injured attempting to board triple chairlift

An experienced skier and two companions had positioned themselves on the load line to board the triple chairlift.  

A lift attendant employed by the ski resort was on duty in the vicinity of the loading point.  

As the skier and her companions waited on the load line to board the chairlift, they noticed that the chair coming around the bullwheel had its safety bar down.  

They called out to attract the lift attendant's attention, and at the last minute he raised the safety bar on the chair.  

The skier and her companions then mounted the chair. However, as they did so, the right arm rest of the chair struck the skier from behind in the groin and she was  seriously injured. 

She found herself straddled on the arm rest, but was eventually pulled onto the seat by a companion, to save her from falling. 

Skier sues ski resort for negligence

The skier sued the ski resort for negligence, alleging that she had suffered injury to her left vulva, back, right hip and right thigh, abrasion to the left portion of her left labium majus, bruising, anxiety, humiliation and shock.  

The Supreme Court of NSW upheld her claim and awarded damages of $1,368,700. 

The ski resort appealed to Supreme Court of NSW Court of Appeal.

case a - The case for the skier

case b - The case for the ski resort

  • The ski resort was under a duty of care to exercise reasonable care and skill in the provision of its chairlift services to avoid harm to skiers using those services.
  • The ski resort breached this duty of care. The lift attendant should have kept a proper lookout, observing the state of the chairs as they came towards and around the bullwheel. Had he done so, he would have noticed that the safety bar on the chair we were waiting to board was in the down position and he could have raised it in a timely manner. Instead, the lift attendant was facing in the other direction shovelling snow.
  • As my companions and I waited in the correct position on the load line, we had to yell to get the lift attendant's attention. When he heard us, he had to lunge forward, grab the chair, flick the armrest back and let the chair go. In doing so, he pulled the chair out of alignment with myself and my companions, causing the chair to hit me at an angle on my right buttock. I was impaled on the armrest and seriously injured.
  • The ski resort was negligent and so the court must uphold my damages award.
  • We accept that we owe a duty of care to exercise reasonable care and skill in the provision of our chairlift services, to avoid harm to skiers using those services.
  • However, we did not breach this duty of care. It was entirely reasonable for our lift attendant to engage in other tasks than merely looking out and reacting to "down bar situations". This included shovelling snow and maintaining the snow path for the safety and access of skiers.
  • Further, our expert evidence establishes that it was highly unlikely that the lift attendant could have applied sufficient force in sufficient time to cause the chair to misalign in the way that it supposedly did.
  • Even if we did breach our duty of care, that breach was not the cause of the skier's injuries. Since the lift attendant did not move the chair out of alignment with the skier, the skier must have moved out of alignment with the chair. However, the skier has not presented any evidence to show that her misalignment was caused by the lift attendant's actions. Her misalignment could just as easily have been due to other factors, such as her biomechanics causing her hips to move to the right as she looked over her left shoulder to observe the approaching chair.
  • Since we were not negligent, the court must overturn the award of damages to the skier.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Sue Owen
Personal injury
Stacks Goudkamp

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