Third Appellate District Court Affirms Sciacca’s Motion for Summary Judgment

John Sciacca headshotJohn Sciacca filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in this matter in regards to a collision that occurred while plaintiff and defendant were skiing at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort on April 3, 2011. The Placer County Superior Court granted John Sciacca’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that the defendant did not owe any duty to the plaintiff to avoid careless conduct that frequently occurs while skiing under the doctrine of assumption of risk. After judgment was entered, the plaintiff appealed the Placer County Superior Court’s decision.

On April 8, 2015, the Third Appellate District Court for the State of California issued its ruling in favor of John Sciacca’s client, the defendant in this matter. First the court ruled that the defendant presented sufficient evidence to meet her initial burden that the collision between the skiers fell within the doctrine of assumption of risk.

The plaintiff argued in the appeal that the defendant’s conduct was reckless thereby attempting to raise a triable issue of fact in regards to whether or not primary assumption of the risk would apply to this matter. In support of this allegation, the plaintiff argued that the defendant had been skiing at an excessive rate of speed based on the plaintiff’s own judgment and the force of the impact. Additionally, the plaintiff produced a declaration from a witness who stated that he could not see why the defendant impacted the plaintiff other than the fact that the defendant was going too fast. However, the court ruled that there was no evidence that the defendant was skiing at a speed that was excessive for the conditions.

The court even went on to note that assuming the defendant was skiing at an excessive speed, the court had previously held that fast aggressive skiing does not constitute reckless behavior. Towns v. Davidson (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 461. As argued by Mr. Sciacca and noted in the Appellate Court’s decision, in Towns v. Davidson, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th 461, an employee of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area collided with another skier. The plaintiff skier claimed on appeal from summary judgment that the employee’s fast and aggressive skiing constituted recklessness. The court stated in that case that the defendant was skiing quickly and aggressively, but those facts did not establish conduct totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport of skiing.

As analogous to Towns, the court noted that in Mr. Sciacca’s case, assuming that the defendant was skiing too fast, such conduct alone is not reckless because it is not totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. The court further noted that fast skiing is inherent to the sport itself and deterring such conduct would fundamentally alter the nature of the sport. Thus, defendant’s conduct was not reckless.

In her appeal, the plaintiff relied heavily on the case of Lackner v. North (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1188. However, in Lackner, a collision occurred between a snowboarder and a skier while the snowboarder was racing in a rest area where the skier was waiting to go up a chairlift. Here in the present matter, the court ruled in favor of Mr. Sciacca’s argument that the present matter was not analogous to Lackner based on the undisputed facts that the Mr. Sciacca’s case involved a collision between two skiers who were in motion, the collision did not occur in a rest area and that defendant was not racing anyone. Based upon this argument, the Third Appellate District Court agreed with Mr. Sciacca’s argument that there were no facts which raised a triable issue of fact in regards to whether or not the defendant’s conduct was reckless thereby taking it outside the scope of primary assumption of the risk.

As a result of the appellate decision, Mr. Sciacca and his client were awarded their costs on appeal.

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