Trial likely in blinded skier case
July 29, 2002
It appears only to be a matter of time before a lawsuit pitting a former Aspen Valley Ski Club racer against the club and a former coach goes before a jury.
The Colorado Supreme Court issued a mandate two weeks ago in the case of David and Michael Cooper v. the Aspen Valley Ski Club and John McBride Jr.
David Cooper is seeking damages against the ski club and McBride, now a U.S. Ski Team coach, in connection with a training accident that left him blind.
A mandate is a “a confirmation of their order,” explained the Coopers’ attorney, Herb Klein. “After the court rules, there is opportunity for the losing side to file motion for rehearing. The court waits until that time passes and then issues its mandate.
“The decision is etched in stone, if you will.”
The decision that is etched in stone is the state Supreme Court ruling that parents cannot sign away their children’s right to sue on a waiver form.
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The court ruled that David Cooper has the right to pursue damages even though he and his mother, Diane, both signed a ski club waiver at the beginning of the 1995 ski season.
David was 17, a minor, at the time he signed the waiver, so it carries no legal weight, according to Klein. And in June the court ruled that Diane’s signature doesn’t carry any legal weight, either, at least as far as her son is concerned.
Klein said he intends in the next week or so to ask the 9th District Court in Glenwood Springs for a new trial date.
The high court did not weigh in on whether the ski club and McBride are actually liable for David’s blindness. It does mean, however, that a jury can decide liability in the case.
David and his father, Michael, the co-plaintiff in the case, allege that McBride improperly set a training course for racers one day in 1995, creating dangerous conditions and setting the stage for David’s fateful accident. David was blinded after losing control on the course and running into a tree.
The Aspen Valley Ski Club and McBride maintain that the course was properly set.
In 1996, after he turned 18, David and his father filed suit. In 1998, the trial judge in Glenwood Springs threw the case out, noting that David’s mother had signed a waiver absolving the ski club of liability in the event of injury or death. The state Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge’s ruling. After three-and-a-half years in the appellate process, the Supreme Court overturned both lower courts and sent the case back to District Court for a jury trial.
The ruling, which makes all parental waivers meaningless in a court of law, was based on similar decisions by high courts in other states, including Washington, Utah, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas.
David Cooper, now in his mid-20s, went on to graduate from the University of Colorado and currently works at an advertising firm in Denver, Klein said.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]