A 2016 ski collision involving a Snowmass Village resident and a New Mexico man volunteering as a guide for disabled veterans resulted in a federal lawsuit. The case illustrates how complicated the dynamics of a ski collision can be.
The controlling rule typically is that the uphill skier has the duty to avoid the downhill skier. But skiers also have a duty to not stop or position themselves in a blind spot. In the reported fact pattern, the downhill skier with the tethered disabled vet allegedly stopped below a ridge on the trail, not visible to uphill skiers. The uphill skier approached the ridge at a fast speed and once airborne, was unable to avoid striking the two below.
Stuart Pendleton sued Michael Sura in December for negligence, alleging that Sura, around 10:30 a.m. on April 7, 2016, approached a blind spot on Mick’s Gully, a blue run in the Big Burn section of Snowmass Ski Area.
Sura, according to the lawsuit, “approached a blind spot at a fast and uncontrolled speed knowing that there could be other skiers below, flew over a ridge or ‘roller’ without slowing his pace, and collided” with the plaintiff, according to a motion for exemplary damages.
Pendleton at the time was tethering a disabled veteran on a bi-ski — two skis attached to a bucket seat — as part of the annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Pendleton and the disabled skier had stopped when Sura collided with Pendleton and the bi-ski, sending the veteran sliding over 20 feet and fracturing Pendleton’s ankle. Sura too claimed to have his ankle injured in the collision, but some confusion exists on medical care sought.
Sura denied the lawsuit’s allegations, and his attorney filed a non-party designation however, the accident might have been the fault of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which “failed to properly train and equip its volunteers and failed to warn and protect its volunteers and disabled skiers from known difficult terrain on Snowmass Ski Resort …”
With such muddied liability claims, it is not surprising that the case ultimately settled though no disclosure of the amount, if any, of the settlement has been made.