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Recreation liability bill to ‘restore balance’ backed by several C.O. businesses in coalition

(Update: adding video, comments from Oregon Health and Fitness Alliance)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would make Oregonians more liable for injuries if they take part in activities considered “inherently risky.”

The Athletic Club of Bend and nearly 20 other local businesses support the bill, saying it’s needed to protect those who provide those activities and the people who love them.

Senate Bill 754 would reverse a 2014 state Supreme Court ruling, regarding a terrain park injury at Mt. Bachelor, which found recreational liability waivers virtually unenforceable.

Senate Bill 754, co-sponsored by Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, would allow operators to require anyone who engages in a sport, fitness or recreational activity to sign a release from “claims for ordinary negligence.”

If the bill passes, people performing “inherently risky” activities like skiing, rafting or mountain biking, would be held to their signed liability waiver.

Jim Zupancic is president of the Oregon Health and Fitness Alliance, representing a group of nearly 100 small businesses, nonprofits and user groups who formed a coalition called Protect Oregon Recreation, in support of Senate Bill 754.

“All other Western states recognize that, except Oregon,” Zupancic said. “So this would just bring Oregon back in alignment as it was before 2014 with all the other Western states,” 

Mt. Bachelor, the Athletic Club of Bend, the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, Oregon Adaptive Sports and several other Central Oregon businesses are in support of the bill.

Mt. Bachelor President and General Manager John McLeod voiced support last Thursday of the new legislation that would reverse a liability court ruling, which prompted major concern among ski resorts and other recreation businesses.

McLeod said the bill is “needed to restore the balance between the responsibilities of recreation and fitness organizations and the responsibility of individuals.”

Zupancic added Tuesday, “If we don’t have these liability waivers, these businesses won’t be able to offer these to the public."

Zupancic said with the onus almost always on the business, insurance companies are either denying coverage or significantly increasing their premiums.

With higher premiums, comes higher rates.

“We know that consumers can’t afford to pay higher rates, and so these parts of the businesses will probably have to shut down,” Zupancic said.

NewsChannel 21 asked Zupancic if the bill passes, if there's a chance rates or prices might go down at these businesses.

“Well, we know from all of the inflation that we’re seeing in so many things, food prices and other things, we don’t know what’s going to happen ultimately with prices,” Zupancic said.

If the bill passes, it does not mean the business is free from all accountability. A court would always look at the waivers on a case-by-case basis.

However, it would take away the 2014 ruling's precedent, of the business being responsible no matter what.

Central Oregon groups in support of the bill include: Athletic Club of Bend, Camp Chica, Cascade Indoor Sports, Central Oregon Film Office, Cog Wild Bicycle Tours and Shuttles, LOGE Camps, Mt Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, Mt. Bachelor, Oregon Adaptive Sports, Oregon Mountain Biking Coalition, Oregon Outdoor Alliance - Bend, Oregon Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Rides, Outriders Northwest, PINE MTN SPORTS, Renton’s River Adventure, SKi Oregon, Sun Country Tours, The Gear Fix, Toyhouse Toys, Vamonos Outside, Hoodoo, Sisters Athletic Club and Visit Bend

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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