Court assigns some blame to mystery skier in Aspen Highlands crash

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Laurence Niles

A magistrate judge has allowed an Aspen doctor to place some of the blame for a patient’s injuries on an unidentified skier who left the seen of a crash at Aspen Highlands.

The Jan. 13 order, written by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Watanabe in Denver federal court, concluded the “unidentified skier wearing a blue jacket and blue hat” can be a non-party in the medical-negligence suit.

The $4 million complaint, filed by California resident and Aspen condominium owner Laurence Niles, accuses Dr. William Rodman of negligently treating him for injuries he suffered Feb. 17, 2013, from a hit-and-run ski collision at Aspen Highlands. Niles, who was 77 years old at the time, suffered permanent brain damage, his suit says. He was wearing a helmet, according to hospital records that are an exhibit to the case.

Allowing the unknown skier as a non-party to the suit means that should the case go to trial, the jury could determine a portion of Niles’ injuries and damages were because of the skier and not Rodman, the judge’s order said. Watanabe based part of his ruling on the basis that the skier apparently violated the Colorado Ski Safety Act at the time of the collision.

On Wednesday, Niles’ attorneys filed an objection to the judge’s order, arguing case law shows that “Dr. Rodman and Aspen Valley Hospital ‘should expect to treat patients who fall ill or are injured through no fault of their own.’”

The Aspen hospital, originally a defendant in the case, hatched a confidential settlement with Niles in December. The medical facility was officially dismissed from the case Tuesday, according to court records.

Meanwhile, this week’s objection argues that the mystery skier’s actions had no bearing on Rodman’s failure to properly diagnose Niles’ head injury. It wasn’t until six days after the crash that he received a head CAT scan and Aspen hospital physicians determined he had brain damage. He was then transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where he stayed until March 7. Doctors there diagnosed him with intracranial hemorrhage, which is bleeding within the skull.

Assigning blame to the skier is not germane to the case, the objection contends.

“Negligence on the part of the unknown skier may have provided occasion for Mr. Niles to be treated at Aspen Valley Hospital, but did not cause (Rodman) to breach the duty of care (he) owed to Mr. Niles. Thus, (Rodman) cannot attribute (his) own negligent and substandard care to the unknown skier’s conduct.”

Until 2014, Rodman had an exclusive-provider contract to oversee the hospital’s surgical services since 1993. The hospital severed his contract and brought in two physicians with Surgical Specialists of Colorado.

Denver law firms Bogue Paoli & Thomas LLC and Ogborn Mihm LLP filed the suit for Niles in February 2014.

Delta attorney Kim Childs represents Rodman.