Skier Rescue in Oregon

Skiers might at times find themselves in perilous situations. The slopes are littered with natural hazards, such as vertical drops, cliff faces, and rocks. What if you take a tumble over a rock face, landing on a ledge, but unable to climb back to the slope—who is obliged to rescue you?

The general rule of law is that people do not owe each other a duty to rescue each other. Hence, if one skier sees another in peril, they will not be breaking the law if they leave the imperiled skier behind without attempting rescue. There are exceptions to that general rule.

The first exception applies to everyday rescue situations like the one described above. If a second skier stops and begins to rescue you, they may not leave you in a worse condition than that in which they found you. Furthermore, the rescuer is responsible for any additional injuries that they may cause to you! These rules might sound strange and even unfair, and while the morally correct course of action might be to attempt a rescue, there could be detrimental legal ramifications if the rescue goes sour.

A second exception applies to land owners. The law classifies skiers on ski area property as “invitees” of the ski area operator. An “invitee” can fall into two categories: (1) a “public invitee” is on the land with the landowners express or implied permission for the purpose of doing what the land is held open to the public for; and (2) a “business invitee” is on the land with express or implied permission for a purpose connected with the landowners business, i.e., for the economic benefit of the landowner. See Restatement (Second) of Torts, §332 (1965).

A business invitee is afforded high protection by the law because it is presumed the economic benefit conferred creates a high duty of care. A public invitee is afforded protection because of the assurance created by the type of public use that the landowner has taken steps to make the premises as safe as possible. See Parker v. Hult Lumber & Plywood Co., 488 P.2d 454 (Or. 1971). Note still that because of the inherent dangers of skiing and the extra protection for ski area operators, the operators are generally only liable for man-made dangers—those that the operator negligently created.

Oregon courts have confirmed that skiers are invitees as a matter of law. However, that status may be lost if skiers stray from areas that have been designated for skiing by ski area operators, unless they had a reasonable belief that they were still within the bounds of the ski area. See Blair v. Mt. Hood Development Corp., 634 P.2d 241 (Or. 1981). If a skier is negligent in straying from the ski area, he loses his status. But if the operator was negligent, for example failing to signpost or properly indicate on maps the edge of a designated ski area, a straying skier might still be an invitee.

Under the law, the status of being an invitee creates a special relationship between skiers and operators. There is a duty to rescue when a special relationship exists. Cases have found that a landowner is obliged to summon care for an invitee who becomes ill or provide shelter until their condition improves. Dan Dobbs, The Law of Torts (2000).

If a skier becomes imperiled on ski area property, even though not liable for the skier’s injuries, the operator must make reasonable efforts to rescue the skier.

A failure to rescue, or provide assistance in the event of illness likely makes the ski area operator liable in tort.

Protect Yourself and Others while Skiing

If you have found an injured skier, make sure you know the best way to help. For questions, call Richard Rizk, Attorney at Law (503) 245-5677 for a free consultation.

Learn More About Oregon Ski Accidents