British Columbia

Whistler mountain biker loses lawsuit over spinal injury

A Whistler mountain biker who was paralyzed in a bike park accident should have known the risks he was facing when he signed the waiver, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Judge rules paralyzed rider understood the risks when he signed a release

Whistler's A-Line mountain bike trail, which is considered one of the best jump runs in the world, has a "filter entrance" with a steep drop in order to ward off inexperienced riders. (Whistler Blackcomb/YouTube)

A mountain biker who was paralyzed in a Whistler bike park accident should have known the risks he was facing when he dropped into a black diamond trail, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Blake Jamieson was paralyzed from the waist down when he tried to drop down a rock face on the lower section of Whistler Mountain Resort's popular A-Line trail in 2009.

The trail has a worldwide reputation for being one of the best jump runs of its kind, giving riders plenty of chances to get airborne.

Jamieson told the bike patrollers he tried to "pre-jump" the rock drop — an expert move that involves getting the bike airborne before reaching the edge so it would clear the rock entirely and land directly on the trail below.

A-Line's rock drop comes up at 1:30 in this video

The patrollers testified that it appeared Jamieson's back wheel instead hit the lip of the rock, tipping his bike forward and sending him over the handle bars to the landing below.

Jamieson sued, arguing the resort had not properly informed him of the risks of mountain biking when he signed the waiver for his season pass and that he had "no idea" that it was possible for him to go over his handle bars and suffer a spinal cord injury.

Volunteer experience critical

But in their response Whistler noted that Jamieson had worked as both volunteer trail builder and patroller at the bike park for three seasons and had already completed two years training to be a medical doctor at UBC prior to the accident.

The resort's legal team produced accident reports signed by Jamieson showing he had provided first aid at six accidents in the park involving either head or spinal cord injuries.

An expert rider prepares to pre-jump a rock drop on the A-Line trail at Whistler. (Whistler Blackcomb/YouTube)

Nevertheless Jamieson stated in court documents his experience as a patroller "in no way put me in a position to understand the risks of mountain biking in the park."

"On the contrary my time as patroller led me to believe that the risk of serious injury associated with mountain biking the Park were minimal....Had I known this I would not have ridden in the park."

But the judge disagreed, saying it was "very difficult" to find that statement "reliable or credible," and that Jamieson was aware of the risks of spinal injury.

Wavering understanding

Jamieson also argued that there was nothing on the four-page waiver he signed for his season pass that alerted him to the risk of serious or spinal injury while riding in the park.

He also claimed that he believed he maintained the right to sue the park if an accident was not his fault.

But in her ruling Madam Justice Neena Sharma noted that Jamieson had an undergraduate degree in English, and showed a sophisticated legal interpretation of the document.

"I find any reasonable person who can read English, faced with the document, would understand that the risks of using the park are very serious," concluded Sharma.

"In my view, the release is comprehensive, clear and blunt."

The expert rider clears the lip of the rock behind him and prepares to land on the trail below. (Whistler Blackcomb/YouTube)

The judge also noted the release, along with resort staff and signs around the park, clearly highlighted the danger of the sport and warned riders they needed to individually understand the risk they faced.

After noting a number of other cases in which the courts had held up waivers at ski resorts and other instances, the judge found the release was valid and enforceable and denied Jamieson's claim.

She also ruled Whistler was entitled to recover the costs of its legal defence at a future hearing.

For his part Jamieson's lawyer Scott Stanley said the use of legal waivers "removes the legal incentive [for companies] to protect their customers," and called on the B.C. government to make them illegal.


Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.