Senate axes recreation and sports liability bill

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Senate narrowly rejected a bill Tuesday that would have shielded Alaska sports and recreational companies and operators from liability lawsuits. The measure could be reconsidered.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, a Fairbanks Republican, failed by one vote. It would have set out in state law that people engaging in sports or recreational activities should be responsible for the inherent risk associated with those activities.

The bill included a long list of popular Alaska activities, including skiing, snowmobiling, and mushing, and more exotic activities such as dude ranching, bungee jumping and helicopter-assisted skiing.

Sen. Robin Taylor, a Republican from Wrangell, spoke out against the bill, arguing it would give a "free ride" to moneymaking enterprises that take people into dangerous areas while placing blame on innocent victims.

Taylor, who is an attorney, said parents who want their children to play sports would be responsible for medical bills if their kids get hurt.

"The person you are making responsible is the innocent victim who is injured," Taylor said during debate. "Is it our intent that the kid playing soccer pay for his own broken arm?"

Seekins said the intent of the bill was to get people to accept responsibility for their own risky activities. He cited the case of Colorado outdoorsman Aron Ralston who amputated his own arm with a pocket knife after a boulder rolled on it and trapped him.

"It was an inherent risk. He assumed it. Should he sue himself?" Seekins asked.

Seekins said the bill would not protect negligent companies but is aimed at helping companies by driving down the cost of insurance.

But Taylor said the bill would give negligent companies a better position in court by arguing inherent risk of a sport, and not poor instruction or shoddy equipment, was to blame.

"Who are we making responsible for the risk? Not the guy who made a million bucks flying people up the mountain. The person we are making responsible is the innocent victim who got injured," Taylor said.

And Taylor rejected Seekins' claim that the bill would help lower liability costs. He said the impression that insurance costs are rising because of widespread frivolous lawsuits is false.

Seekins said the bill will be reconsidered.



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