A federal jury ruled that the Aspen Skiing Co. was negligent when a female snowboarder from Vermont collided with a snowmobile at Snowmass in March 1997. As a result, the SkiCo was ordered to pay the snowboarder $100,000.
The 12-member jury’s verdict, with interest, awards a judgment of about $123,000. The case was tried before U.S. District Judge Daniel B. Sparr.
Lee, who attended college in Arizona at the time of the trial, filed suit against SkiCo after recovery from the collision left her permanently impaired ankle. She claimed that while she was on vacation at Snowmass with her family on March 16, 1997, she collided with a snowmobile driven by SkiCo employee Rickey Reh.
Of the $100,000 that the jury awarded her, $60,000 went toward her pain and suffering and $40,000 was for her disability and disfigurement.
Prior to trial SkiCo offered a "nuisance value settlement" that wasn’t accepted, and the case ultimately went to trial. "They didn’t seem to be very cooperative," Lee said. "And I don’t feel they had much of a case, but we ended up going to trial anyway."
Lee was knocked unconscious in the accident, and underwent surgery at Aspen Valley Hospital. She sustained a broken ankle and tendons were ripped from her bone. Lee had "a promising running career that was ruined."
The accident occurred at the bottom of Whispering Jesse, where it is intersected by the Trestle run. Lee had claimed that the snowmobile driver failed to yield the right-of-way to downhill skiers and snowboarders while attempting to cross the trail against traffic.
"It was the first day of my vacation and the first run of the day," she recalled. "I was one of the first people on the lifts and I was coming down the trail and I hadn’t made it down the first run and this man was driving the snowmobile across an intersecting trail and he failed to look and slow down. There was a blind spot there, and I really don’t remember much after that."
The case was bolstered by the testimony from an eyewitness who said the snowmobile driver failed to slow or look uphill to determine if the area was clear before crossing the slope.
The Colorado Snowmobile Act provides that "no person shall operate a snowmobile in a careless or imprudent manner without due regard for width, grade, corners, curves, or traffic of trails … and all other attendant circumstances."
The jury found that Lee was blameless in the accident, although it was instructed that she had a duty to maintain a lookout, and to avoid vehicles on the slopes and trails, as well as follow all warnings and obey all signs on the slopes and trails, per the Colorado Ski Safety Act.
Past results are no guarantee of future results.