Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort

Decision Date01 March 1991
Docket NumberNo. 890070,890070
Citation808 P.2d 1037
PartiesMargaret CLOVER and Richard S. Clover, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. SNOWBIRD SKI RESORT, dba Plaza Restaurant, a Utah corporation; and Chris Zulliger, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Richard D. Burbidge, Stephen B. Mitchell, Peter L. Rognlie, Salt Lake City, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Jay E. Jensen, Todd S. Winegar, Salt Lake City, for defendants and appellees.

HALL, Chief Justice:

Plaintiff Margaret Clover sought to recover damages for injuries sustained as the result of a ski accident in which Chris Zulliger, an employee of defendant Snowbird Corporation ("Snowbird"), collided with her. From the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants, Clover appeals.

Many of the facts underlying Clover's claims are in dispute. Review of an order granting summary judgment requires that the facts be viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. 1 At the time of the accident, Chris Zulliger was employed by Snowbird as a chef at the Plaza Restaurant. Zulliger was supervised by his father, Hans Zulliger, who was the head chef at both the Plaza, which was located at the base of the resort, and the Mid-Gad Restaurant, which was located halfway to the top of the mountain. Zulliger was instructed by his father to make periodic trips to the Mid-Gad to monitor its operations. Prior to the accident, the Zulligers had made several inspection trips to the restaurant. On at least one occasion, Zulliger was paid for such a trip. He also had several conversations with Peter Mandler, the manager of the Plaza and Mid-Gad Restaurants, during which Mandler directed him to make periodic stops at the Mid-Gad to monitor operations.

On December 5, 1985, the date of the accident, Zulliger was scheduled to begin work at the Plaza Restaurant at 3 p.m. Prior to beginning work, he had planned to go skiing with Barney Norman, who was also employed as a chef at the Plaza. Snowbird preferred that their employees know how to ski because it made it easier for them to get to and from work. As part of the compensation for their employment, both Zulliger and Norman received season ski passes. On the morning of the accident, Mandler asked Zulliger to inspect the operation of the Mid-Gad prior to beginning work at the Plaza.

Zulliger and Norman stopped at the Mid-Gad in the middle of their first run. At the restaurant, they had a snack, inspected the kitchen, and talked to the personnel for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. Zulliger and Norman then skied four runs before heading down the mountain to begin work. On their final run, Zulliger and Norman took a route that was often taken by Snowbird employees to travel from the top of the mountain to the Plaza. About mid-way down the mountain, at a point above the Mid-Gad, Zulliger decided to take a jump off a crest on the side of an intermediate run. He had taken this jump many times before. A skier moving relatively quickly is able to become airborne at that point because of the steep drop off on the downhill side of the crest. Due to this drop off, it is impossible for skiers above the crest to see skiers below the crest. The jump was well known to Snowbird. In fact, the Snowbird ski patrol often instructed people not to jump off the crest. There was also a sign instructing skiers to ski slowly at this point in the run. Zulliger, however, ignored the sign and skied over the crest at a significant speed. Clover, who had just entered the same ski run from a point below the crest, either had stopped or was traveling slowly below the crest. When Zulliger went over the jump, he collided with Clover, who was hit in the head and severely injured.

Clover brought claims against Zulliger and Snowbird, alleging that (1) Zulliger's reckless skiing was a proximate cause of her injuries, (2) Snowbird is liable for Zulliger's negligence because at the time of the collision, he was acting within the scope of his employment, (3) Snowbird negligently designed and maintained its ski runs, and (4) Snowbird breached its duty to adequately supervise its employees. Zulliger settled separately with Clover. Under two separate motions for summary judgment, the trial judge dismissed Clover's claims against Snowbird for the following reasons: (1) as a matter of law, Zulliger was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the collision, (2) Utah's Inherent Risk of Skiing Statute, Utah Code Ann. §§ 78-27-51 to -54 (Supp.1986), bars plaintiff's claim of negligent design and maintenance, and (3) an employer does not have a duty to supervise an employee who is acting outside the scope of employment.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper in cases where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. 2 In cases where the facts are in dispute, summary judgment is only granted when, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, the moving party is entitled to judgment. Therefore, when reviewing an order granting summary judgment, the facts are to be liberally construed "in favor of the parties opposing the motion, and those parties are to be given the benefit of all inferences which might reasonably be drawn from the evidence." 3 The determination of whether the facts, viewed in this light, justify the entry of judgment is a question of law. We accord the trial court's conclusions of law no deference, but review them for correctness. 4

II. SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, employers are held vicariously liable for the torts their employees commit when the employees are acting within the scope of their employment. 5 Clover's respondeat superior claim was dismissed on the ground that as a matter of law, Zulliger's actions at the time of the accident were not within the scope of his employment. In a recent case, Birkner v. Salt Lake County, 6 this court addressed the issue of what types of acts fall within the scope of employment. In Birkner, we stated that acts within the scope of employment are " 'those acts which are so closely connected with what the servant is employed to do, and so fairly and reasonably incidental to it, that they may be regarded as methods, even though quite improper ones, of carrying out the objectives of the employment.' " 7 The question of whether an employee is acting within the scope of employment is a question of fact. The scope of employment issue must be submitted to a jury "whenever reasonable minds may differ as to whether the [employee] was at a certain time involved wholly or partly in the performance of his [employer's] business or within the scope of employment." 8 In situations where the activity is so clearly within or without the scope of employment that reasonable minds cannot differ, it lies within the prerogative of the trial judge to decide the issue as a matter of law. 9

In Birkner, we observed that the Utah cases that have addressed the issue of whether an employee's actions, as a matter of law, are within or without the scope of employment have focused on three criteria. 10 "First, an employee's conduct must be of the general kind the employee is employed to perform.... In other words, the employee must be about the employer's business and the duties assigned by the employer, as opposed to being wholly involved in a personal endeavor." 11 Second, the employee's conduct must occur substantially within the hours and ordinary spatial boundaries of the employment. 12 "Third, the employee's conduct must be motivated at least in part, by the purpose of serving the employer's interest." 13 Under specific factual situations, such as when the employee's conduct serves a dual purpose 14 or when the employee takes a personal detour in the course of carrying out his employer's directions, 15 this court has occasionally used variations of this approach. These variations, however, are not departures from the criteria advanced in Birkner. Rather, they are methods of applying the criteria in specific factual situations.

In applying the Birkner criteria to the facts in the instant case, it is important to note that if Zulliger had returned to the Plaza Restaurant immediately after he inspected the operations at the Mid-Gad Restaurant, there would be ample evidence to support the conclusion that on his return trip Zulliger's actions were within the scope of his employment. There is evidence that it was part of Zulliger's job to monitor the operations at the Mid-Gad and that he was directed to monitor the operations on the day of the accident. There is also evidence that Snowbird intended Zulliger to use the ski lifts and the ski runs on his trips to the Mid-Gad. It is clear, therefore, that Zulliger's actions could be considered to "be of the general kind that the employee is employed to perform." 16 It is also clear that there would be evidence that Zulliger's actions occurred within the hours and normal spatial boundaries of his employment. Zulliger was expected to monitor the operations at the Mid-Gad during the time the lifts were operating and when he was not working as a chef at the Plaza. Furthermore, throughout the trip he would have been on his employer's premises. Finally, it is clear that Zulliger's actions in monitoring the operations at the Mid-Gad, per his employer's instructions, could be considered "motivated, at least in part, by the purpose of serving the employer's interest." 17

The difficulty, of course, arises from the fact that Zulliger did not return to the Plaza after he finished inspecting the facilities at the Mid-Gad. Rather, he skied four more runs and rode the lift to the top of the mountain before he began his return to the base. Snowbird claims that this fact shows that Zulliger's primary purpose for skiing on the day of the accident was for his own pleasure and that therefore, as a matter of law, he...

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