Gardnerville couple suing ski resort in accident
March 5, 2012
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – A Gardnerville woman is recovering from a head injury after she was struck by a Heavenly Mountain Resort employee while skiing down the slow run at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Elisabeth Benschop will be going to a neurologist in the next couple of weeks after the Feb. 22 accident resulted in her being knocked unconscious. Benschop and her husband have filed a lawsuit against the resort, alleging it is responsible for the conduct of their employees.
Husband Calvin Fitzgerald said Friday the couple were skiing down the Olympic Trail in preparation to wrap up the day.
“Elly was doing real good,” he said. “We were on the slow skier run, and we’d gone through gates that say slow, and past someone in a yellow caution suit monitoring people.”
Fitzgerald said because everyone around them was also skiing slowly he went out in front of her instead of remaining behind her as he usually would.
“Just as I turned around, I heard a God-awful explosion and looked, and here’s my wife lying on the ground, out of her skis, poles and glasses, and she’s not moving.”
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Fitzgerald kicked off his skis and ran to his wife’s side.
“The snowboarder saw me and got up and went back up to where Elly was unconscious,” he said. “We thought we were safe in the slow skiing area. Elly was not a real good skier, but I was helping her and she was doing really well.”
He said that while he is normally someone who can handle difficult situations, he felt helpless when his wife woke up crying.
“But I did ask the snowboarder for her name and she said ‘I don’t speak English.’ I pointed to her ski pass and it said she was a Vail employee,” he said.
The Gardnerville couple is suing Heavenly and parent company Vail Resorts in U.S. District Court, claiming the resort’s policies contributed to the accident.
According to documents filed Thursday with U.S. District Court, the employee, Andrea Ramos, a 20-year-old Brazilian snowboarder, crashed into Benschop.
Unlike an accident that occurred in January 2011, where a Heavenly employee was on the clock when he ran into a skier, the company is saying Ramos was on her own time and therefore solely liable for the accident.
“Vail refused to acknowledge any responsibility for this accident stating to Elly’s husband Cal that this is a ‘skier-to-skier’ accident and is no fault of Vail’s,” the lawsuit states.
Minden attorney J.D. Sullivan is representing Benschop and her husband.
His contention is that because Heavenly solicits foreign employees, offers free season ski passes for use when they’re off duty, discounted merchandise, food and beverage, and low-cost housing that the company is responsible for their presence on the slopes.
Sullivan argues that the resort doesn’t provide adequate training to the employees on skiing and boarding skills and the need to follow the resort’s responsibility code.
The lawsuit is seeking in excess of $75,000 and legal fees.
A spokesman for Vail Resorts said it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation.
The couple recently moved to Gardnerville after spending 11 years sailing around the world in a 30-foot boat.