Published in the Union Leader (1/17/2016)
Q. I own a small ski resort and tubing park in New Hampshire. A skier was injured while skiing at my resort. How long does the skier have to bring a lawsuit against my business?
A. The New Hampshire Skier Safety Act governs the conduct of skiers and ski resorts in New Hampshire. Enacted in 1965, the Act governs skiing and related winter sports while seeking to promote safe recreational opportunities for the 2.5 million plus skiers that visit New Hampshire’s ski resorts each year.
Under the Skier Safety Act, injured skiers have 2 years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit against resort operators or their suit will be barred. This type of legal time limit is called a “statute of limitation,” the length of which generally starts the day an injury occurs. In New Hampshire, the Skier Safety Act further conditions the 2-year limit by requiring injured skiers to provide notice of injury to resorts by certified, return-receipt mail. This notice letter must be postmarked within 90 days of the injury’s occurrence and functions as a secondary limitation designed to ensure that resort operators can promptly investigate and correct hazardous conditions on their premises in order to operate safely. For injured skiers, this 90-day notice condition must be satisfied to preserve and raise a lawsuit within the Act’s 2-year statute of limitations. For resort operators, this 90-day notice condition bars injured skiers from bringing suit if they fail to notify the operator of injury within the 90-day timeframe.
Recently, New Hampshire’s Supreme Court provided further clarification after injured skiers disagreed with a resort about whether the Act’s notice requirement was satisfied on mailing or receipt of a notice letter. Subsequently, resorts large or small, need to understand the effect of the Court’s resulting ruling.
The Court addressed the timing of the skier’s notice letter by applying the mailbox rule—a legal principle associated with contract law that generally provides that acceptances are effective when they are no longer in control of the sender. The court held that the Act’s 90-day condition is satisfied upon mailing of a notice letter, as long as such notice is “deposited in the mail,” i.e., postmarked, on or before the 90th day.
Accordingly, skiers injured while skiing at New Hampshire resorts have 90 days from the date of their injury to postmark a notice of injury by certified return-receipt mail in order to sue against ski area operators under the New Hampshire Skier Safety Act. Consequently, resort operators should always compare the injury date against the mailing date of any notice letter received from an injured skier attempting to assert an injury claim in New Hampshire.
Joshua Lanzetta can be reached at email@example.com.
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