Snowboard company being sued |

Snowboard company being sued

Sam Bauman

A lawsuit that was to go to trial last week in Placer County Superior Court in Auburn pits snowboard manufacturer Burton and a ski shop against the family of a snowboarder who died in a 1993 accident at Ski Homewood on Lake Tahoe’s west shore.

However, at the last minute attorneys James Hyde, representing Burton, disqualified the assigned judge. This means the trial will await rescheduling.

The suit, brought by the family of Issac Goodkind, claims that Burton was “negligent in manufacturing a snowboard with bindings that did not release in a fall.”

According to a Jan. 4, 1993 Tahoe Daily Tribune article, Goodkind, 22, of the Santa Cruz area died Jan. 2, 1993. Apparently Goodkind was snowboarding off of the groomed trail in a wooded area and fell in deep snow and died of suffocation and hypothermia. It took the ski patrol several sweeps of the mountain to find him because only an inch of his snowboard was visible above the snow.

A finding for the plaintiffs could result in chaos in the snowboard industry as almost all snowboards sold or rented are equipped with non-release bindings.

The suit was originally filed as Goodkind vs. Burton Snowboard et al in 1995. Homewood and a Santa Cruz ski shop were included in the suit, Homewood for alleged failure to respond with an emergency rescue in a timely fashion and the ski shop for selling the snowboard and bindings.

A Superior Court judge made a summary judgment dismissing the suit in favor of Burton and the ski shop, denying that the board was defective because it was made without releasable bindings and did not have a bright fluorescent base to make it more visible during a search. This separated Homewood from the other two defendants.

However, attorney Joseph Carcione Jr. of Redwood City, Calif., appealed the case to the California Appellate Court, which overturned the original ruling.

Homewood has settled the suit, with CEO Jim Mitchell saying, “It would have cost us more for legal expenses than it cost to settle.” Terms of the settlement were not made public.

However, the suit is still listed in Superior Court as Goodkind vs. Ski Homewood and was to open Nov. 10.

Also targeted in the suit is the Ski Shop in Santa Cruz, Calif., which sold the Burton snowboard with bindings to Goodkind in November 1992. At the time of purchase Goodkind signed a Burton release noting that the snowboard bindings were not designed to release in an accident.

While ski bindings have long been designed to release skiers’ boots in a fall, snowboard bindings have almost exclusively been designed to release only by the snowboarder unbuckling the bindings. Recently, step-in bindings offer easier release while the boarder is standing still but do not release under impact of a fall.

The Miller Snowboard Corp. of Orem, Utah, has designed a releasable snowboard binding and has marketed it since 1991. However, the snowboard industry generally has not adopted it, possibly due to fears that a releasable binding on a snowboard was more dangerous than a non-releasable binding.

Miller sued Burton at one point, charging “defamation” by a Burton attorney on a television show with the Salt Lake City Federal Court, but the suit was withdrawn.

Carcione recently took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today newspaper, asking for information about snowboard deaths. The ad cost a reported $75,000. He did not return calls to his office.

Most snowboarder deaths occur when the rider is snowboarding alone in untrafficked areas and falls into a deep “tree hole,” the open area around a tree trunk which can be several feet deep, or in deep-powder snow.

Upside down, the rider is unable to extricate him or herself and suffocates.

There have been seven snowboarder deaths in the Sierra Nevada in the last few years and 19 in the U.S. with a total of 100 worldwide.

Local snowboard rental and retail shops do not stock releasable snowboard bindings and generally do not regard them as safe as non-releasable bindings.

Paul Nanzig, manager of Rainbow Mountain Ski Shop, noted that his shop does not stock snowboard releasable bindings largely as a matter of lack of availability. “If a maker of a releasable binding offered us a test we would try it. But nobody has.

“As unfortunate as these deaths are, people need to recognize that freedom of choice is fundamental here. The choice to ski or snowboard is to accept a certain level of risk.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has echoed that, holding that sports such as skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous and those taking part do so at their own risk.

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