Lawyer questions state law on skier safety
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS ” A lawyer who specializes in skier-injury cases worries that a state law will let ski resorts off the hook in accidents like a snowmobile collision that killed a 13-year-old ski racer.
Ashley Stamp, 13, of Steamboat Springs died in a crash with a resort snowmobile on Vail Mountain Dec. 19. More than 1,000 mourners attended her funeral Thursday at the Steamboat Springs High School gym.
Denver lawyer Jim Chalat won $100,000 from the Aspen Skiing Co. after a federal jury found the resort negligent in a 1997 collision between a snowmobile and a snowboarder at Snowmass. He reached an undisclosed settlement with Aspen Skiing when a champion Yugoslavian pro racer was hit by a snowmobile at the same resort in 1992 and suffered a career-ending knee injury.
“Typically, the snowmobile has to yield,” Chalat said.
He said a moving snowmobile usually is not considered an inherent risk that skiers accept when they head to the slopes.
Recent amendments to a 1979 state law capping awards from ski resorts at $250,000 say skiers and snowboarders enter race arenas, terrain parks and extreme skiing areas at their own risk.
“My bill was not a general recess on liability for ski-area operators,” state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park said of the amendments.
But Chalat said he fears the effect will be absolute immunity from negligence claims.
The issue of a potential lawsuit has not come up in Ashley’s death. The Colorado State Patrol is investigating the accident.
Ashley was skiing downhill before a race on Vail Mountain when she collided with a race-crew snowmobile heading uphill over a blind knoll. The Eagle County coroner said she died from chest injuries.
Resort officials told the State Patrol that the snowmobile was traveling about 10 mph with its siren wailing. But Ashley’s teammates on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club said the snowmobile was moving much faster and used no signaling device.
“The investigation into the circumstances surrounding this tragic accident is ongoing, and therefore it continues to be inappropriate to comment any further,” resort spokeswoman Jen Brown said.
Other Colorado resorts said they are assessing their policies on snowmobiles in the wake of the Vail accident.
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