NewsContact Denver7Denver7 Investigates


Paralyzed skier's challenge creates landmark Colorado Supreme Court decision on liability at ski resorts

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that ski resorts are not exempt from responsibility, even if skiers sign waivers.
Posted: 5:28 PM, Jun 13, 2024
Updated: 2024-06-14 12:03:49-04
ski resort lawsuit.png

DENVER — A day of skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort changed Annie Miller’s life forever.

On March 16, 2022, the then-16-year-old and her father tried to get on the Paradise Ski Lift, but there was a mishap and she wound up falling roughly 30 feet. The fall damaged her C7 vertebrae and left her paralyzed.

ski lawsuit 2.jpg

In the months that followed, Miller spent time in an intensive care unit, had several surgeries and did daily therapies. She and her father also pursued legal action against the ski resort.

“She went up to the first tower and fell 30 feet. And now she’s paralyzed for life because no one stopped that chair lift,” said Bruce Braley, Miller’s attorney who filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

A Colorado district court ruled against her attempts to hold the resort accountable, saying she had signed away her rights to pursue claims of negligence when she purchased a season pass that included waivers of liability for the resort.

ski lawsuit 3.jpg

The court decided that the waiver eliminated any opportunity to convince a jury, short of gross negligence — which carries a very high legal bar — that Crested Butte was responsible for the accident that left her paralyzed. But her legal team challenged that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.

In May, the state’s highest court ruled in a 5-2 decision that the "district court erred in dismissing that claim" and that "Crested Butte may not absolve itself, by way of private release agreements of liability of statutory and regulatory duties."

This opens the door for Miller to try and seek restitution from the resort. Braley said it was a good day for ski safety in Colorado.

“I am not intimidated by ‘Big Ski’ in Colorado,” Braley said. “I knew the actions they were taking were unfair and I wanted to hold them accountable for injuries they caused to passengers on chairlifts in the state of Colorado. And I didn’t care what it took, we were going to get an answer.”

Braley said the justices were bothered by the fact that Crested Butte and other ski areas were trying to get immunity from wrongdoing by making people sign a waiver.

Miller, now 18, spoke exclusively with Denver7 Investigates after the ruling was handed down.

ski lawsuit 1.jpg

“When I went through the accident, I immediately felt like my voice wasn’t heard,” she said. “During this time, I felt really alone and there was no one else that understood what I was going through… I definitely felt like I was irrelevant.”

Miller’s injury was not the only high-profile ski lift incident in recent years at Colorado resorts.

Denver7 Investigates has reported on several, including a February 2020 incident where a 46-year-old man died at Vail Ski Resort. Reports from that incident state the chair on the chairlift Jason Varnish rode on was not lowered and his jacket got caught on the lift, leaving him unable to breathe. A little more than three years earlier, in December 2016, a woman died after she was ejected from a lift at Ski Granby Ranch.

Attorneys tell Denver7 Investigates that both of those cases were settled before going to trial.

skiing chairlift.jpg

Denver7 Investigates

Court ruling increases risks for skiers in Colorado

Tony Kovaleski
10:12 PM, Feb 04, 2021

Personal injury attorneys Jim Chalat and Peter Burg both said they paid close attention to the Colorado Supreme Court's decision.

“Liability breeds responsibility,” Chalat said. “I’m afraid the battle in the courts is over and the battle in the general assembly is about to begin.”

Burg said he hopes the ski industry will embrace this as an opportunity to enhance public safety.

“I think one of the big important things is there is accountability now,” Burg said.

Braley, Miller’s attorney, called this a “game changer” because now ski areas can’t just put language in waivers to give themselves blanket immunity. For Miller, she said that while she never wanted to be part of a landmark decision, she is glad she was able to fight for the safety of others.

“I love helping others, and if this is one way I can make a difference, then I am going to do it, especially since this is where I am now,” she said.

Miller’s legal team is hoping for a 2025 court date.

Vail Resorts, which owns the Crested Butte Mountain Resort, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Got a tip? Send it to the Denver7 Investigates team
Use the form below to send us a comment or story idea you'd like the Denver7 Investigates team to check out. You can also email or call our newsroom at 303-832-0200.