I had an interesting call this past week inquiring about potential civil liability for a wrongful death at a ski area. This call reminded me of the tragedy surrounding Natasha Richardson’s death last March when she suffered head injuries at a ski area. A few years ago, Mel Orchard (an attorney at Gerry Spence’s shop) and I tried a similar case in Wyoming. Our client had fallen (an entirely forseeable event for anyone skiing) into an unpadded, unmarked and partially buried electrical box. The ski industry fights these to the death because they say the responsibility for safety rests with the skier, not the area. In our case, we settled with the utility company that had placed the box and then went to trial against the ski area. While the jury was out we settled with the ski area, and our client’s surviving spouse and son were awarded some money to offset their loss of husband and father. The Richardson case raises another important question – whether the emergency medical technicians actually attended to her injuries. An interesting analysis of this question is found on Anderson Cooper’s site. The bottom line from my experience a few years ago is this – ski injury and death cases are very difficult to pursue. State’s have enacted Recreational Safety Acts which exempt property owners from liability for simple negligence in many such circumstances.
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