Sports and Recreation Litigation

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

Administrative Proceedings

  • 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

Representative Matters

  • 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.

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"In my discussions with Duane Morris leaders, they frequently speak about how diversity within their firm has enabled them to better serve their diverse clients. They understand that investing in diversity is a wise business decision that positions them for the marketplace of the future."

Don Liu
Senior VP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary
Xerox Corporation

At Duane Morris, achieving diversity is paradoxical. By supporting and celebrating the differences of our attorneys - and the individual strengths that they bring - our firm culture expands, fostering creative solutions for our clients. But diversity at Duane Morris does not mean that we have a certain number of diverse attorneys; true diversity means that it is no longer noteworthy to see diverse lawyers leading our practice groups or managing client relationships. Ascending to positions of leadership and greater responsibility and providing the highest levels of client service is simply what is expected of all our lawyers. Diversity is another strong asset that adds to our collective abilities to meet the needs of our clients.

Our vision of diversity at Duane Morris is to realize an environment in which our lawyers' outstanding qualities are not just measured by ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation, but more importantly, that our lawyers are remarkable as excellent attorneys above all else. Only then can we celebrate our differences while focusing on the common pursuit of legal excellence which everyone shares at Duane Morris.

To reach this goal, Duane Morris understands that the familiar diversity strategies and policies that most law firms have are needed. Without demanding results from such policies, most law firms are bound to fail in even achieving numerical hiring and retention goals. Duane Morris has been proactive and ambitious in its efforts to improve diversity at the firm, and has set deadlines for reaching the milestones which mark our progress. To create a more diverse law firm, Duane Morris is:

  • Committed to strategically increasing our diversity levels, which is currently at 10 percent.
  • Bringing together our Diversity Committee and our Hiring and Retention Committee to raise diversity as an important factor in our hiring decisions.
  • Dedicated to improving retention by building upon our monitoring and mentoring program for all diverse associates.

Combining new initiatives with our longstanding diversity efforts, Duane Morris has seen increasingly positive results. In the Minority Law Journal's annual diversity survey of the nation's largest 260 firms, Duane Morris continued to improve its regional and national ranking, rising to number 136 of all firms surveyed. Our strides in Philadelphia are encouraging; in a city known for both the racial diversity of its population and the lack thereof in its law firms, Duane Morris is one of only two law firms to exceed the national average of minority partners at all law firms. Additionally, Duane Morris leads all national law firms based in Philadelphia in the number of Latino partners. Nearly 30 percent of all of our attorneys are women, and more than 20 percent of our partners are women.

In our approach to diversity, progress in racial, gender and cultural diversity cannot be measured in numbers alone. Duane Morris has focused our diversity initiatives on both increasing the number of diverse associates and addressing the challenges diverse attorneys face in building lasting careers and rising to senior and leadership positions. While several of our key practice groups are led by diverse partners and female partners, Duane Morris endeavors to create a culture which will foster a deep pool of such attorneys who can then develop into the firm's future leaders. Duane Morris understands that simply hiring diverse associates will not change the diversity of the firm; Duane Morris is working to mentor and retain diverse associates so that our progress in racial, gender and cultural diversity is also reflected at the highest levels of leadership within the firm.

Our progress on gender diversity has been profound. We have no glass ceilings: women hold positions of leadership at all levels of management at the firm. Women lead a number of our key practice groups, including our Energy, Immigration and International practices, and serve on the firm's Executive Committee. The success of our female attorneys at Duane Morris has not gone unnoticed. Barbara Adams was chair of the firm's Finance Practice until her appointment by Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell to serve as General Counsel of the Commonwealth. In 2004, our longtime General Counsel, Gene E.K. Pratter, was approved by the United States Senate and is now a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Our efforts to improve diversity extend beyond our firm's walls. The chair of our Diversity Committee, Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr., recognized the lack of diversity in Philadelphia's legal community and formed the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. Nolan now serves as the chair of the organization, a consortium of 25 law firms and corporations that commits to employing at least one diverse first-year law student each as a summer associate. From this program, law students of diverse backgrounds gain access to what was once an exclusive legal community, and now have the opportunity to learn and develop their legal careers with experience at Philadelphia's top law firms.

In addition to our involvement in the Philadelphia area, Duane Morris has increased our presence at national conferences and events focused on diversity. We sponsor the Hispanic National Bar Association and its job fair. Duane Morris is also a longtime supporter and sponsor of the Equality Forum, a national gay and lesbian rights organization. Duane Morris continues to sponsor the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and is active in other associations of diverse attorneys including: the Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley; the Charles Houston Bar Association; Cuban Bar Association; Korean American Lawyers Association; National American Indian Housing Counsel and the National Bar Association.

The challenge of improving gender, ethnic and cultural diversity at Duane Morris is an ongoing effort that has the support of the entire firm. Duane Morris has been at the vanguard in supporting gender diversity throughout the firm beginning a generation ago. Our diversity programs are leading to similar success in improving racial and national origin diversity at Duane Morris. But even as we share these examples of Duane Morris attorneys and our involvement in numerous legal events, associations and programs for diversity, our hope is that such examples will no longer be necessary to mention in the future. We hope that through our efforts, and the efforts of other law firms, these stories become so common that they are no longer the remarkable accomplishments they are today, but simply routine aspects of the legal world tomorrow.