Taking risks at Mt. Bachelor

A skier launches over a rock garden in 2015 at Mt. Bachelor. A 2014 Oregon Supreme Court ruling held that waivers signed by visitors to the resort were largely unenforceable.

A bipartisan bill backed by a coalition of recreational businesses and groups would reverse a landmark liability ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court involving an 2006 accident at Mt. Bachelor.

Senate Bill 754 was formally introduced Thursday and will be assigned by Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, to a committee for possible consideration during the 2023 session.

Supporters of the legislation announced the creation of a new coalition on Thursday to work to pass the legislation.

Protect Oregon Recreation represents about 100 outdoor and indoor recreation businesses, non-profits, and groups  - part of a statewide industry generating $16.75 billion in economic activity and accounting for 245,000 jobs.

The state and local communities in Oregon receive an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue from affected businesses and organizations, the coalition said in its statement.

“Access to recreation, especially health clubs and gyms, is essential to the health and well-being of Oregonians across the state,” said Jim Zupancic, president of the board of directors for the Oregon Health & Fitness Alliance, which is part of the coalition.

The bills would reverse the liability standard set in a 2014 Oregon Supreme Court ruling in a case involving the Mt. Bachelor ski resort.

In 2006, 18-year-old Myles Bagley was paralyzed when he crashed while jumping in a terrain park at the ski area.

Bagley sued, seeking $21.5 million. The Deschutes County Circuit Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that by signing a liability release when he bought his season pass, Bagley had waived his right to sue.

But in December 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned the earlier court decisions. The Oregon Supreme Court ruling has been broadly interpreted to render liability releases as unenforceable.

“Without waiver reform, Oregonians risk losing access to their favorite outdoor activities across our state’s mountains, trails, lakes and rivers,”  Jordan Elliott, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association, said in the coalition's Thursday statement.

The liability ruling has created concerns not just for ski resorts, but for rafting guides, bicycle rental companies, outdoor sports instructors, as well as indoor gyms and health clubs that routinely require customers to sign liability waivers. 

Mt. Bachelor CEO John McLeod said in a statement Thursday that without the bill, resorts, business and recreation organizations face ever-steeper costs that can lead to higher prices for consumers, curtailment of activities and, in the worst scenario, the closing of business and facilities.

"Without this needed liability reform, ski resorts and other recreation organizations face significantly increased costs as compared to recreation businesses in other western states, as well as the very real prospect of having to significantly modify operations, such as potentially closing areas of our ski resort when certain natural conditions exist,” McLeod said.

SB 754 lists three chief sponsors: Sen. Aaron Wood, D-Salem; Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena; and Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield. Supporting co-sponsors are Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend; Rep. David Gomberg, D-Lincoln City; and Rep. Ken Helm, Beaverton. 

Knopp has been involved in earlier attempts to pass legislation changing the liability ruling or to reach agreement to opponents of change, such as the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. In 2020, recreation businesses and their supporters created The Oregon Big Tent Recreation Coalition to push for legislation to change the liability standard. Nearly all House and Senate Republicans walked out that year over opposition to a carbon cap bill and did not return prior to the constitutionally mandated end of the 35-day session.

The new bill, SB 754,  is part of a long agenda of bills and resolutions facing lawmakers in the 160-day session. Over 2,000 pieces of legislation have been introduced for consideration in the 160-day session that under the Oregon Constitution must adjourn by June 25.

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