C.U., a Broadway ballerina injured when another skier plowed into her on the ski slopes of Snowmass in 1993 – won $2.4 million in damages in a Denver federal court suit seeking compensation for a big hitch in her career as a performer.
The plaintiff, age 32, collected for a knee injury that impaired her ability to execute a perfect pirouette and the demanding lunges and jumps required of dancers. The Denver jury ordered Alexander Shvartsman, a then 44-year-old commodities trader, to pay Ms. U. $500,000 for her pain, disability and disfigurement and $1.6 million for loss of past and future earnings. Interest bumped the total to $2.4 million.
The award, the largest ever given by a Colorado jury in a ski accident case, was unaffected by Colorado legislation that limits the damages that can be collected from ski areas. Under a 1990 amendment to the ski act, a ski area can be held liable for a maximum of $1 million if damages stem from a failure to post needed warnings or to mark obvious dangers on the trail.
Ms. U. had offered to settle the case in August 1993 for an amount short of Shvartsman’s $300,000 liability coverage. However, the offer was turned down.
In December, 1993, Federal District Judge Edward Nottingham ruled that Shvartsman’s negligence was the sole cause of U’s injuries but left it to a jury to determine the dollar amount of the damages.
In her lawsuit, U. named Shvartsman as the skier who brushed past her, causing her to suffer a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. The injury, one that frequently afflicts professional athletes, impairs the rotation and flexibility of the knee. While the dancer received excellent treatment that restored the use of her knee, she will never perform at the level she would have but for the injury.
She was on a gentle traverse when she looked up and saw Shvartsman bearing down on her straight down the fall line. He passed behind, striking her in the back, rotating her around on her right leg and knocking her down. During the trial, Shvartsman testified that he was unaware of U’s presence and never knew that he hit her until he stopped on the ski hill well below the site of the accident.
The trial court’s decision on liability was reversed on appeal and the case was set for retrial on the issue of liability. Immediately before the second trial, Shvartsman’s insurer paid substantially all of the damages awarded.
Past results are no guarantee of future results.