Practice/Industry Group Overview
Duane Morris attorneys are among the pioneers in sports and recreation law. Our attorneys are nationally respected for their innovative and effective strategies in litigation, trial work, appellate work, risk management advice, ADR, and advice on issues with industry wide ramifications.
For the past 30 years, our attorneys have been at the forefront of work for the sports and recreation industry, including skiing and snow sports, golf, bicycling, and other outdoor industries. During that time, we have helped revitalize and define one of the most pressing issues to the sports industry: the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. Working on behalf of the ski industry, our attorneys helped establish the doctrine of primary assumption of risk defense, on a case-by-case basis, through the trial courts and appellate courts. The resultant rulings now serve as a basis for many defense victories in sport liability claims in virtually all industries.
Our group is adept at handling all levels of litigation, resulting in numerous summary judgments and defense verdicts for our clients. In instances where verdicts are challenged, we have attorneys experienced in representing clients through appeal. We also help clients identify which claims should be vigorously defended through trial and which should be settled. Our attorneys are particularly skilled in helping our clients weigh the risks of litigating against the importance of maintaining a reputation for not settling when there is little or no liability exposure.
Our skills and experience go well beyond litigation. We excel in handling cases involving high-profile catastrophic injuries, and in helping our clients manage the financial and public relations consequences of such events. We also advise many businesses on self-insurance programs.
Duane Morris acts as national supervising counsel for many well-known companies whose products include skis and ski bindings, mountain and road bicycles, in-line skates, scuba equipment, water ski equipment, snowboards and snowboard bindings, boats, personal watercraft, exercise equipment, motor vehicle tires, and motorcycle and bicycle helmets. Our clients include the owners and operators of ski resorts, golf courses and amusement parks; manufacturers, distributors and retailers of sports equipment, recreational boats, and personal watercraft; outdoor and guide operations; and sports and recreation industry trade groups.
Examples of our attorneys' experience include:
- Ski resort and golf course owner and operator representation
- Sports equipment products liability defense
- Breach of contract actions
- Catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases
- Employment and wrongful termination actions and ADA
- Environmental litigation
- Representation before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, including reporting and recall efforts
- Representation before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board
Advice and Counseling
- Risk management advice and document review
- Draft and review of promotional and licensing agreements
- Audit and advise on insurance coverage, both with traditional insurers and in self-insurance programs
Licensing and International Disputes
- Domestic and international contract review and negotiations, including manufacturing and distribution agreements, indemnity and insurance obligations, and trademark and patent licensing
- Dispute resolution through arbitration, mediation, injunctive relief and other litigation
- Alpine Meadows Avalanche Trial: Successfully defended ski area in wrongful death actions arising out of a catastrophic avalanche at ski resort that left seven people dead. Plaintiffs alleged the resort was negligent in its avalanche hazard forecasting and control efforts. Trial lasted 4.5 months. Defense verdict after 12 days of jury deliberations.
- Brown v. Bieffe Helmets, s.r.l: Successfully defended Italian motorcycle helmet manufacturer in wrongful death action arising out of a fatal motorcycle accident in Sacramento County, California. Plaintiff alleged the helmet decedent was wearing was defectively designed and manufactured. Trial lasted three months. Defense verdict after 15 minutes of deliberations.
- Quinlin v. Bieffe Helmets, s.r.l: Successfully defended Italian motorcycle helmet manufacturer in personal injury action arising out of a motorcycle accident in Yolo County, California. Plaintiff suffered severe brain injury in the incident. Plaintiff alleged the helmet buckle failed and helmet ejected during incident. Trial lasted three weeks. Defense verdict after one-half day of deliberations.
- National Marine Manufacturers Assn., et al., v. Tahoe Regional Planning Authority: Successfully negotiated a settlement on behalf of recreational boating industry to phase in an ordinance banning two stroke engines on Lake Tahoe.
- Bicycle Distributors and Wholesalers Assn.: Assisted in drafting model bicycle owner’s manual for most major bicycle distributors in North America.
- Willig v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 2010 WL 302436 (Cal.App. 3 Dist.). Trial and appellate teams who achieved a defense verdict in favor of a ski area after a five-week jury trial. The case involved a snowboarder who sustained injuries resulting in paraplegia. Plaintiffs sought over $10 million in damages. The verdict was upheld in a unanimous decision on appeal, with the Supreme Court denying appellants' petition for review.
- Successful defense of European ski equipment manufacturers in class action unfair competition suit which sought to bar the use of liability releases by ski shops; see Olsen v. Breeze, Inc., 48 Cal.App.4th 608, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 818 (1996)
- Lead trial counsel in defending dozens of ski and snowboard liability suits, which established the primary assumption of risk defense in California; see, e.g., Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 39 Cal.App.4th 8, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d 855 (1995)
- Zatarain v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 2010 WL 3404760 (Cal.App. 3 Dist.). Plaintiff appealed from a judgment in favor of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area after the court sustained two demurrers and ultimately struck plaintiff's amended complaint without leave to amend. Plaintiff had sought damages for claims of negligence, gross negligence, and various forms of discrimination. We argued the case before the Third District Court of Appeal, which affirmed the judgment in Mammoth's favor. The Supreme Court denied appellant's petition for review.
- Souza v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp. (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 262 Handled the case through discovery, summary judgment and argued the appeal before the Third District Court of Appeal in California. The Court, in a published opinion, affirmed summary judgment.
- Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 577. Obtained reversal of a $9.7 million verdict in a snowboard injury case. The case was retried and resulted in a defense verdict.
- Defended a major recreational-sports-equipment manufacturer against alleged design-defect claims.
- National product liability counsel for American, Austrian, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swiss manufacturers of ski, snowboard, cycling, scuba, tennis and climbing equipment, including helmets.
- Filed amicus curiae briefs in California Supreme Court which also have helped better define the doctrine of primary assumption of risk in recreational injury cases.
- Numerous summary judgments which have been appealed have resulted in published case law which has helped establish and revitalize the doctrines of primary and express assumption of risk in California.
- Defended sporting goods manufacturers trade association in multi-state product liability litigation.
- Counsel to multiple ski and rock climbing equipment manufacturers in product liability and breach of contract matters.
- Represented nationwide sporting goods retailer in product liability matter involving catastrophic injury.
- Resolved federal court action for serious orthopedic injuries filed against a major international winter sports equipment company involving defective design and manufacture and claims.
- Counsel to international manufacturer of ski helmets in the defense of a product liability wrongful death claim in which it was alleged that the client's helmet caused the death of a minor plaintiff during a ski accident. After extensive discovery and investigation, successfully negotiated a favorable settlement resolving all claims.
- Resolved dispute between ski resort and condominium owners' association regarding easements over ski resort property.
- Assisted in representation of a large ski resort in settling an environmental claim brought by the State of California, which had alleged Cal. Business & Professions Code §§ 17200, et seq. and CEQA violations.
- Advise and represent manufacturers, importers and distributors of jewelry, apparel, toys, sporting goods, electronics and other consumer products in claims and litigation involving California Proposition 65, including settlements and consent decrees in public and private enforcement actions.