Manslaughter trial for skier has resorts edgy
While a former ski lift operator in Eagle County, Colo. stands trial for manslaughter for speeding down a crowded slope and killing another skier, resorts across the country have enhanced safety education.
District Judge David Lass, who is trying the case, said there is a possibility that the jury, now in deliberation, could conclude that the defendant, Nathan Hall, consciously disregarded the risk of skiing fast on poor snow conditions.
National Ski Areas Association launched a special awareness campaign last year, which many Lake Tahoe resorts including Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood follow.
Larry Samelson, attorney for the father-and-son law firm of Laub and Laub in California, said if one skier crashes into another skier, the resort generally gets immunity from legal prosecution. However, he said that all riders on the mountain are responsible for their own actions and could be subject to civil prosecution for reckless skiing.
“One is always liable for their own negligence,” Samelson said.
In a civil case there could be an evaluation of what percentage of fault belongs to each skier. This can be decided by insurance representatives, a judge or a jury.
But in law there are no clear lines, and each case must be looked at individually.
“There is a lot of leeway in sporting activities, because they are inherently dangerous,” he said.
Samelson said he has never encountered a case when a skier has been involved in a collision that resulted in a criminal case.
According to Hans Uthe, assistant district attorney for El Dorado County, if there is a collision between two skiers and one leaves the scene of the accident it is considered along the lines of a hit-and-run and carries a fine of up to $1,000.
Uthe said that a death caused by negligence in California could carry a penalty of up to four years in jail.
He said that in a criminal case involving reckless skiing, the jury would have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The jury is invited to consider what a reasonable person would be doing under those circumstances,” he said.
But he said that he has not seen a case like the one in Colorado.
“We haven’t seen a situation like this and hopefully people will keep it together and have a good time, and we won’t ever be under consideration of filing a case like this,” he said.
Both Sierra-at -Tahoe and Kirkwood have adopted safety programs to educate skiers and snowboarders. These plans are outlined on the trail maps and ticket booths, taught at the ski schools and encouraged by ski patrollers.
Sierra-at-Tahoe has modified the National Ski Areas education plan and termed it the Heads up Initiative, which includes patrollers that monitor the speeds of snow riders in designated slow zones.
“At Sierra our guest safety is definitely one of our primary concerns and the Heads up Initiative it is an integral part of the campaign that we have embraced,” said Megan Moore, marketing manager for Sierra.
Kirkwood stresses the skier and snowboarder responsibility code.
In some cases, when passes are suspended at Kirkwood for reckless riding, offenders are made to watch a video before getting their passes back, but for the most part ski patrollers would rather talk to reckless riders and educate them than pull a pass.
“It’s like anything, there is a right and wrong place to do things,” said David Paradysz,” risk manager at Kirkwood.
“It’s like car racing; you go on a race track,” he added. “You don’t do it on the highway or around town.”
Break out box:
Skier’s and Snowboarders’s Responsibility Code: Provided by Kirkwood
1) Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
2) People ahead of you have the right of way. It’s your responsibility to avoid them.
3) You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
4) Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
5) Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
6) Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
7) Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
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