Legal experts debate liability of snowmobiles on ski mountains
VAIL – Is Vail Resorts potentially liable under state law for the death of the 13-year-old Steamboat Springs ski racer who was killed Dec. 19 in a snowmobile collision on Vail Mountain?The issue of a potential lawsuit has not yet come up in Ashley Stamp’s death, but if the case ends up in civil court, the Colorado Ski Safety Act’s provisions laying out where responsibility lies will be a key issue, said local attorney Rohn Robbins. Under the act, enacted in 1979 and amended in 1990, each skier accepts the risk of – and all legal responsibility for – any injury resulting from any of the so-called “inherent dangers” of skiing. Ashley died from chest injuries when she collided with a race-crew snowmobile heading uphill over a blind knoll on Golden Peak. The state law caps legal awards from ski resorts at $1 million.Snowmobiles aren’t included in the Safety Act’s laundry list of inherent dangers, said Melanie Mills, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry advocacy organization. Does that mean snowmobiles are a liability for the mountain? It depends on the situation, Mills said. And Robbins said if negligence is proven, a snowmobile collision could be ruled an inherent risk.”There are duties imposed on ski areas to maintain their equipment properly and there are also duties appointed to skiers,” Robbins said. “One duty is to avoid collisions with other persons or objects below them.”Chances are that unless there’s proof that the snowmobile operator was acting negligently it will be a case that she had the responsibility of avoiding the collision because she was going downhill,” Robbins said.According to the Colorado State Patrol, which is investigating the case, 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 no siren was sounding.Vail Resorts officials have never commented on Ashley’s death. “Given that the tragic accident that occurred on Sunday, Dec. 19, is still under investigation, Vail Resorts is not going to comment on any aspect of this incident or on snowmobile safety,” said Jen Brown, Vail Mountain spokeswoman.
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