Ski safety lawsuit against Vail Resorts could have precedent-setting impact
VAIL – The case of a Vail woman suing Vail Resorts for injuries she allegedly sustained while skiing on Vail Mountain could be precedent-setting, attorneys said.At stake is what ski area operators’ responsibilities and liabilities are in some accidents.Julia Parsons, 45, claims she was injured in February 2004 when she skied across the old Lionshead Bridge, fell and hit one of the walls. As a result, Parsons sustained a two-and-a-half inch gash in her knee that required three layers of stitches to close. She later found out she had hit a bent metal bracket.In October 2004, Parsons sued Vail Resorts in Eagle County District Court, arguing that Vail Resorts should have maintained the bridge properly.A few months later, Vail Resorts filed a counterclaim against Parsons seeking legal costs based on the Ski Safety Act and the waiver Parsons signed when she bought her season pass.”It’s gotten to be a much bigger deal than I ever thought it would be by them trying to countersue me. It’s intimidating,” Parsons said. “I feel they are trying to set an example out of me. If they were able to countersue me and win it would be a huge detriment to all skiers who ski on Vail Mountain because they would basically be saying that, no matter what happens to you, you don’t have any recourse against Vail Resorts.”Kelly Ladyga, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, declined to comment, saying the company’s policy is not to discuss pending litigation.In their response filed with the courts, Vail Resorts attorneys said, from the photograph Parsons took, a small portion of the bracket appeared to be bent less than 1 cm – about half an inch – out from the wood.A trial date will be set July 14. In the meantime, District Judge Tom Moorhead has ordered mediation.
What makes this case special, said Joe Bloch, Parsons’ attorney, is that it addresses the difference between those who sign season pass waivers and those who buy single-day passes. According to Bloch, those buying one-day tickets maintain their right to sue, but those who sign a season-pass waiver hold the ski areas harmless for whatever happens. When she bought her season pass, Parsons signed a waiver.”The waiver is contrary to the law and public policy,” Bloch said. “What they say is that because (Parsons) got a season pass and she got a ‘deal’ she shouldn’t have the same protections as someone who buys a one-day ticket. But the Ski Safety Act doesn’t differentiate between a season passholder and a one-day ticket skier.”In court documents, Vail Resorts argues that the language in the waiver Parsons signed isn’t contrary to the obligations of the ski operator as defined in the Ski Safety Act.Jim Chalat, a Denver lawyer who specializes in ski law, said Parsons should win the lawsuit. “The statutory provision trumps any waiver,” Chalat said. “The Ski Safety Act says the ski area operator is responsible for any man-made object not visible from 100 feet away. The statutory safety provision should trump any effort from the ski area operator to repress a claim.”If Parsons wins the case, it could also set a precedent, Chalat added, possibly opening ski area operators to more such lawsuits in the future.Though she’s seeking punitive and compensatory damages – her medical bills added up to $3,000 – Parsons said she’s more concerned with the safety of skiers than financial compensation.Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 454 or email@example.com.
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