VT Consumer Protection Bill

edited May 10 in NELSAP Forum

Vermont Ski Areas Urge Scott To
Veto Consumer Protection Bill

By Peter
Hirschfeld
15 hours ago

VPR News

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The association that represents Vermont ski areas says a
consumer protection bill passed by lawmakers this session would hurt the
outdoor recreation industry. Backers of the legislation say it will protect
Vermonters from unfair contract practices

Nina
Keck / VPR

Vermont
lawmakers Tuesday gave final approval to a first-in-the-nation consumer
protection bill, but critics say the legislation could severely disrupt the
state’s outdoor recreation industry.

Audio
for this story will be posted.

Here's
the deal:

You
know all that fine print you have to sign off on when you buy a ski pass? The
legalese you’ve probably never even bothered to read?

Vermont
Ski Areas Association President Molly Mahar says there’s a good reason it’s
there.

“It’s
very helpful for us if we have a document that someone has signed acknowledging
the inherent risks,” Mahar says.

Helpful,
Mahar says because it can limit the amount of financial liability a ski area
faces if someone gets hurt on the slopes.

But
according to Mahar, legislation approved by the Vermont Legislature on Tuesday
would put a serious dent in those legal safeguards, by changing the law that
governs certain contract provisions.

"It
means that it's going to be difficult for us to get liability insurance. It's
going to drive the cost of liability insurance up." — Molly Mahar, Vermont
Ski Areas Association

Now
that the legislation, called S.105, has won final passage in the Statehouse,
Mahar has a clear message for Gov. Phil Scott.

“Veto
this bill,” Mahar says. “This threatens the recreation industry by completely
undermining all the basic principles of recreation law.”

Burlington
Rep. Selene Colburn has a different request of Scott.

“I urge
the governor to stand with working Vermonters and sign 105,” Colburn says.

Colburn
says the bill will protect people from all manner of unfair contract practices
in all sorts of different legal arenas.

Windham
County Sen. Jeannette White offered up a real-life example of the kind of
employment contract the legislation would prohibit.

“If you
have a sexual harassment complaint, you have six hours to report it from the
time it happened. You have two minutes to give a deposition. You have to go to
Nevada to press your case,” White says.

The
legislation discourages these kinds of terms by creating something called a
“presumption of unconscionability” for certain contract provisions.

"Unconscionable"
is a term of art the legal world and refers to something so unjust or unfair
that no reasonable person would willingly agree to it. A contract in which
someone waives the statute of limitations to file a claim, for instance, would
be presumed to be unconscionable under the legislation.

Colburn
says there's a reason many corporations use these sorts of provisions.

“It’s
to silence consumers, workers and victims to who enter into these contracts on
a take-it-or-leave-it basis,” Colburn says.

Ski
areas, however,  aren’t the only ones concerned about the bill. The
organization that puts on the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, for example,
and Special Olympics Vermont, have also cautioned lawmakers against the
legislation.

Allow
the bill to go into law and Mahar says the recreation industry could suddenly
find itself on shaky ground.

“It
means that it’s going to be difficult for us to get liability insurance. It’s
going to drive the cost of liability insurance up,” Mahar says.

The
governor’s legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, says the legislation could have
a similarly disruptive impact on tech industries that offer low-cost software
products, or local non-profits trying to provide recreational amenities.

“If
you’re a YMCA with a pool, you know, you’re going to have somebody sign that
waiver of claims,” Johnson says.

Johnson
says the courts already have the latitude to decide whether a contract term is
unconscionable. And she says they regularly do.

Colburn,
however, says that consumers assume that once they sign these contracts,
they’ve waived their right to file legitimate claims.

“In the
face of such terms, most working people simply abandon their claims,” Colburn
says.

Colburn
attributes concern over the bill to “misinformation” about its contents. And
backers of the legislation say it leaves untouched an existing statute that
deals with "inherent risk."

That
law, according to Wells River Rep. Chip Conquest, says that "anyone who
takes part in any sport in Vermont assumes as a matter of law the risks
inherent in that sport.”

But
Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, who tried to rally opposition against the bill in
the Vermont House, says she considered the legislation “a significant gift to
the trial attorneys in the state of Vermont.”

Vermont
would be the first state in the nation to enact the language in the legislation,
and Johnson says that makes the bill even more problematic.

She
says the governor has not decided yet whether he’ll veto the bill, or allow it
to go into law.

 

Comments

  • Liability insurance is already outrageously expensive for mountains, often who have only 1 choice. They can charge what they want and if you want to do business you buy it. If it goes up too much it may be too high for some smaller guys to continue operation.

    As far as the liability itself, the bill will make little difference in consumer protection at least for skiers and riders. Once the precedent was set 20 some odd years ago with the first court case against a ski area despite a waiver, the back of the ticket has meant little since.
  • I feel blessed that all these politicians and lawyers have our best interest in mind.
  • newpylong said:


    As far as the liability itself, the bill will make little difference in consumer protection at least for skiers and riders. Once the precedent was set 20 some odd years ago with the first court case against a ski area despite a waiver, the back of the ticket has meant little since.
    I thought it was 1973 when the first $1 million skier law suit was awarded against an area (Stratton). Google was no help but Wikipedia had it:
    Also in 1974, James Sunday was paralyzed after a fall while skiing at Stratton. In a landmark decision three years later, Sunday was awarded $1.5 million by a jury. The decision resulted in significant price increases throughout the ski industry, due to skyrocketing liability insurance costs.
  • edited May 9
    NJSki said:

    I feel blessed that all these politicians and lawyers have our best interest in mind.

    reminds me of the city fathers in Beacon NY who basically wouldn't let Dutchess have access to water. Years later they had a meeting with two things on the docket -- what to do with the old ski area buildings, and what to do about the lack of winter recreational opportunities for kids.

  • TomWhite said:

    newpylong said:


    As far as the liability itself, the bill will make little difference in consumer protection at least for skiers and riders. Once the precedent was set 20 some odd years ago with the first court case against a ski area despite a waiver, the back of the ticket has meant little since.
    I thought it was 1973 when the first $1 million skier law suit was awarded against an area (Stratton). Google was no help but Wikipedia had it:
    Also in 1974, James Sunday was paralyzed after a fall while skiing at Stratton. In a landmark decision three years later, Sunday was awarded $1.5 million by a jury. The decision resulted in significant price increases throughout the ski industry, due to skyrocketing liability insurance costs.



    The Sunday vs. Stratton case was detailed in a Patrol Refresher Course I attended soon after the decision. It was explained that the Jury was shown a video entitled "A day in the Life of James Sunday". The depiction of his life in a wheelchair swayed the jury. The accident involved the plaintiff losing control and hitting a tree, off trail. It was claimed that the reason he lost control was due to the fact he hit a bush in the middle of the trail. However, the trail involved in the accident was the Interstate trail. Of course, everyone in the Industry knew that since the Interstate trail is used as a work road in the Summer, there was no way a bush could ever grow in the middle of that run!  The only problem was the area had no way to prove, in the courtroom, that a bush could not have existed to cause the plaintiff to lose control.

    The result of the decision, in favor of the plaintiff, did indeed drive up the Liability premiums to Ski Areas, and prices for lift tickets. Many smaller areas closed as a result!  Some surviving areas found it better to self insure, than pay the higher fees. Ambulance chasing Lawyers started monitoring Ski Patrol Radio frequencies. In the meantime, statewide codes, like NY State's Code 54, which spelled out the responsibilities of both Area and Skier were enacted.  The fact that Stratton could not prove the ridiculous notion of a bush in the middle of the Interstate, led to accident investigations being performed in the event of serious injury. Witnesses had to be interviewed, accident diagrams had to be drawn and photographs of the accident scene had to be taken.  All of the follow-up documentation of an accident was to help the area defend itself in the event of a lawsuit.

    Sunday vs. Stratton put the whole notion of a skier assuming the risks inherent in the sport into question.     

     

  • Agree with you Spk-- now the amount of paperwork, computer work, et al that has to be done for a run of the mill accident is pretty overwhelming and for an AI? It's off the charts. I used to be an AI patroller, sent out to take measurements and photos but got out of that field quickly due to the added amount of training and the danger of spending a lot of time being deposed or in court. No thanks. 
    "Making ski films is being irresponsible with other people's money, in a responsible sort of way..." 
    Greg Stump
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