Family wants money back from Snowmass ski vacation canceled over pandemic

People skin up Fanny Hill and practice social distancing in Snowmass Village on March 21, 2020. (Dave Krause/The Aspen Times)
Dave Krause/The Aspen Times

The owner of a luxury rental home in Snowmass Village is accused of withholding a refund of $93,189 to a family whose vacation plans were ruined because of the coronavirus outbreak.

At the heart of Chicago resident Brian Littleton’s lawsuit against B Wild Snowmass LLC — a limited liability company that bought the home for $5.2 million in October — is that shelter-at-home orders in both Illinois and Colorado precluded his family from taking a ski vacation from March 22 through April 5.

Littleon made full payment in advance of the trip Jan. 11, the suit said.

“After Littleton executed the agreement, but before his family was set to depart for Snowmass, the United States started to see its first cases of the novel COVID-19 virus,” said the suit, which was filed in Pitkin County District Court on June 24. “Soon thereafter, Pitkin County started to see its first cases and the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic.”

Barry Dubin, who owns the Snowmass property with his wife — they too live in Chicago — declined comment over the weekend. B Wild Snowmass has yet to file a response to the suit.

Dubin’s attorney, however, said though the contract was clear that “all sales are final.” Dubin offered the family a discounted rate for another time, “which he (Littleon) declined,” said Chicago lawyer Adam Rome.

“We believe we over-accommodated him,” Rome said Sunday in a phone interview, “and when the contract was executed in January, COVID was a known commodity. He chose not to get trip insurance and he chose not to come to the property.”

The complaint is the first of type filed so far in Pitkin County District Court as it relates to vacation refunds because of the coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11 and a national emergency by President Donald Trump on March 13.

Short-term rental companies like Vrbo and Airbnb have extenuating-circumstances policies that provide refunds or travel credits to guests, but those policies are only triggered when travelers cancel their stays within a certain time period. The result has been $3 million in claims for vacation refunds related to coronavirus, USA Today reported in June.

A number of reservation contracts also have “force majeure” clauses meaning they don’t cover unforeseen circumstances such as weather events or natural disasters.

In Littleton vs. B Wild Snowmass, the lawsuit says both the renter and homeowner hired Aspen real estate brokerages to arrange the transaction.

Littleton’s suit claims it would have been nearly impossible to vacation in Snowmass during the booked dates.

The suit cited a state of Illinois health order, from March 21, that “legally prevented” the Littletons from leaving Chicago to travel to the property in Snowmass. It also referred to a Colorado order, from March 25, prohibiting all travel except that which was necessary then.

“Traveling to a vacation rental did not fall under the definition of ‘necessary travel,’” the suit said.

Meanwhile, Pitkin County issued an order March 23 instructing visitors to go home.

“Even if Littleton and his family had made it to Snowmass, they would have been ordered to immediately leave pursuant to the Pitkin order,” the suit said.

The suit added, “Even if Littleton and his family violated the Illinois order, the Colorado order and the Pitkin order commanding all visitors to leave, they would have been required to shelter in place and otherwise abandon all the remaining fruits of their vacation. For example, all ski resorts were forced to close on March 15, 2020, because of COVID-19. Further, all bars, restaurants, theaters, salons, spas, and other attractions of that resort destination were ordered to close.”

Littleton tried to get a refund April 1 but was denied, said the suit, which was filed by the Polsinelli law firm in Denver.

Rome said Littleton canceled the trip in March before the public health orders came down.

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