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Smith v. Seven Springs Farm Inc.

decided: September 12, 1983.

PETER SMITH, APPELLANT
v.
SEVEN SPRINGS FARM, INC., T/D/B/A SEVEN SPRINGS SKI RESORT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (PITTSBURGH)

Aldisert and Weis, Circuit Judges, and Re Chief Judge.*fn*

Author: Aldisert

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This diversity case, governed by Pennsylvania law, asks us to interpret the Pennsylvania Skier's Responsibility Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7102 (Purdon Supp. 1982), to decide whether appellant Peter Smith assumed the risk of skiing injuries sustained at Seven Springs Ski Resort so as to discharge the resort from its duty of care and preclude a finding that it was negligent. The district court found that Smith assumed the risk as a matter of law and granted summary judgment in favor of Seven Springs. We affirm.

I.

Appellant Peter Smith is no novice to the sport of downhill skiing. He has skied for over thirteen years and characterizes himself as an advanced intermediate skier.

On February 2, 1980, Smith skied at Seven Springs for the first time. He went to the top of the mountain to ski the North Face, a trail that consists of two short, gentle slopes, one at the top of the mountain and one at the bottom with a steep headwall in between. A sign is posted at the beginning of the trail displaying the international skiing symbol of a black diamond below which are printed the words "MOST DIFFICULT." Heeding the sign and deciding not to take a less difficult trail that branches off to the side at the top of the mountain, Smith began his descent down North Face. As he approached the headwall, he stated that he was aware that the headwall was icy and that skiers ahead of him were having trouble negotiating its steep slope.*fn1 He also stated that he was aware that a series of unprotected telephone-like poles, part of the resort's snowmaking apparatus, lined the center of the headwall.*fn2

These conditions, however, did not prompt Smith to change course. Although he had the option to stop, turn around, and side-step back uphill to a gentler slope, he instead proceeded to traverse the headwall. Seconds later, he encountered the icy conditions and attempted to move to the center of the slope, toward the snowmaking apparatus, in search of less icy terrain. The maneuver was unsuccessful. He fell, lost his skis, and slid into one of the telephone-like poles and two nearby snowmaking pipes. As a result, he sustained serious and permanent injuries to his right knee.

Smith brought the present negligence action seeking to recover for his injuries. The district court, relying in part on the Pennsylvania Skier's Responsibility Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7102(c) (Purdon Supp. 1982), ruled against him in summary judgment, concluding that, as a matter of law, he had assumed the risk of injury so as to discharge Seven Springs from its duty of care. Smith appeals, contending: (1) that the district court erred in its interpretation of Pennsylvania law and thereby erroneously defined the applicable doctrine of assumption of risk;*fn3 and (2) that it was improper for the court to grant summary judgment when material facts as to his knowledge, appreciation, and voluntary acceptance of the risk remained in dispute. As to his first contention, our review is plenary. Universal Minerals, Inc. v. C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 103 (3d Cir. 1981). As to his second, we must view the evidence in a light most favorable to appellant and only uphold the district court's ruling if we find that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976).

II.

The law of assumption of risk, generally, is not free from confusion. Pennsylvania law is no exception. The complexity of the doctrine and the consequent difficulty of its application are well illustrated by three disparate meanings given the term by the courts:

In its simplest form, assumption of risk means that the plaintiff has given his express consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation to exercise care for his protection, and agrees to take his chances as to injury from a known or possible risk. . . .

A second, and closely related, meaning is that the plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk. . . .

In a third type of situation the plaintiff, aware of a risk created by the negligence of the defendant, proceeds or ...


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