Immunity from Personal Injury for Tennessee Ski Resorts

In most instances, when an individual has a claim for personal injury, negligence, or wrongful death against another individual or corporation, a lawsuit can be brought in federal or state court. While there are certain limitations on who can bring a lawsuit (someone who has actually been injured) or when the lawsuit can be brought (within the statute of limitations period), the courts generally prefer to give individuals as much opportunity as possible to seek justice through the court system.  One special exception to this policy is the concept of immunity.  The legislature, or the courts, may grant immunity to certain individuals or entities so that they are insulated from a lawsuit. Governmental departments may be immune from suit, as may individuals acting on behalf of the government, such as police officers, in certain circumstances.  But immunity is not limited to public officials. A recent case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addresses the possibility of immunity for ski resorts from lawsuits that arise on their property.

In Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., the Sixth Circuit considered the claims of Ms. Fakhouri, who was injured while using a tramway on the ski resort’s property. The ski resort operated the tramway to go up the mountain during the summer months as an alternative source of income to skiing. When Ms. Fakhouri attempted to enter the tram, her wheelchair became caught, and her legs were forced to buckle under the wheelchair. She continues to suffer lasting injuries from the accident. As a result, Ms. Fakhouri sued Ober Gatlinburg in federal court, claiming that the resort was negligent in its operation of the tramway. In response, the resort argued that it was immune from suit under an existing Tennessee statute.

The statute provides that “no action shall lie with any ski area operator by any skier or passenger” as long as the ski resort complies with the Tennessee Ski Area Safety and Liability Act. The statue has been specifically deemed to apply to any injuries arising from an individual’s use of passenger tramways or downhill skiing areas. In response, Ms. Fakhouri argued that because at the time of her accident, Ober Gatlinburg was not operating its ski areas, because of the lack of snow, and was providing other services such as the tramway, it was not a “ski area operator” at the time of the accident. Likewise, Ms. Fakhouri argued that her injuries did not arise out of the use of the tramway while “associated with downhill skiing.” That is, she argued that her intent was never to be involved in skiing, and therefore the statute did not apply to her.

The Sixth Circuit rejected both arguments. First, it noted that Ober Gatlinburg did not cease to be a ski area operator simply because it was in a season when no snow was present. Instead, it remained a ski area operator that also provided other forms of entertainment in addition to skiing. For this reason, the statute applied. Likewise, Ms. Fakhouri was injured while using a tramway that had been built as part of a downhill skiing resort. Thus, the tram itself was “associated with Alpine or downhill skiing” as part of the resort, and the statute did not require that Ms. Fakhouri herself intend to ski. For these reasons, the Sixth Circuit held that the statute applied, and Ober Gatlinburg was immune from Ms. Fakhouri’s suit.

If you have recently been injured in an accident at a ski resort, experienced personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether the Tennessee Ski Area Safety and Liability Act may create challenges for your claim, and how you may be able to avoid immunity issues.  For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Government Liability in Tennessee for Automobile Accidents Involving Police Officers, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 13, 2016

The Complexities of Bringing Personal Injury Claims Against International Corporations in Tennessee, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog,  March 10, 2016

Can Tennessee Emergency Vehicles Be Held Liable for Accidents That Occur While on to Emergency Calls? Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 10, 2016