In a rare verdict against a California ski area operator, a Los Angeles jury on Monday awarded about $4 million to a woman who was paralyzed after a skiing accident. In 2012, Leslie McLaughlin, 35, was skiing at Mountain High Resort, a southern California ski area, when she encountered a sudden incline and was propelled into the air, causing her to land on her back.
Because of the accident, McLaughlin is paralyzed from the chest down, but can move her arms. She said she uses a wheelchair and is helped by a caregiver. Before the fall, she worked as a veterinarian.
The jury awarded a total of nearly $22 million, but the amount McLaughlin will receive was reduced by the panel’s finding that she was 82 percent responsible for her injuries.
Mountain High attorneys argued that McLaughlin was traveling more than 30 mph and that she did not pay attention to warning signs regarding terrain features. But in her testimony, McLaughlin said she was unaware of the dangers posed by the elevated area located at the bottom of Mountain High West’s Woodworth Gulch. McLaughlin thought she was encountering a rolling hill with a gradual descent on the other side and that she could ski over it safely. It was actually an “unmarked table top jump” and there were no signs warning of the terrain change.
Mountain High lawyers stated in their response that the small slope is a “staging area” put in place eight years ago to separate the Woodworth Gulch from a “playground” area of small terrain features for skiers and snowboarders.
McLaughlin remembered going off the slope with her skis over her head. Afterwards, she spent six to seven months at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena before being transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver for about 3 1/2 months of rehabilitation.