By James Moss
In what a lot of the ski industry is considering both a bizarre and excessive award a 12-year-old boy was awarded $3,275,000 by a jury. News reports about the award all refer to the plaintiff’s firm who won the award as the source for the information.
The award was $3 million for pain and suffering and $275,000 for loss of earning capacity.
The incident occurred when the plaintiff was boarding a high-speed lift with three other people at Wachusett Mountain ski area in Massachusetts. Instead of landing on the seat he sat on the arm of the chair. At this point, the description of what happened gets bizarre. “He quickly slipped out of the seat as the riders ascended, with his body turning “so that his back was to the mountain, and his legs were under the chair…”
Why people do not let go, or fall down when they are close to the ground has always confused and perplexed me. Hanging on in an attempt to get back in the chair as the chair climbs higher out of the terminal is just dumb.
Eventually falling, the youth landed on a snow gun. The plaintiff’s firm stated the snow gun was negligently left under the lift; however, it is hard to imagine that a snow gun is any different than a skier on the snow. Many resorts store snow making equipment around lift towers, as long as they are padded or marked according to state law.
§ 71N. Recreational Tramways — Posting of Signs and Notices by Ski Area Operator.
A ski area operator shall:
(1) whenever maintenance or snow-making equipment is being employed on any ski slope or trail open to the public, conspicuously place or cause to be placed, notice at or near the top of any ski slope or trail being maintained that such equipment is being so employed, and shall conspicuously indicate the location of any such equipment in a manner to afford skiers reasonable notice of the proximity of such equipment;
It is not negligence to leave the snow making equipment anywhere, and under a lift would be fine because you don’t expect people to fall out of the chairs.
The plaintiff suffered a concussion, five fractured vertebrae and a fractured pelvis from the fall.
One main issue of the incident, as in all lift accidents, is people were yelling for the lift to stop, which did not stop. In fact, chair lifts are specifically designed not to stop when the emergency stop button is activated. Confusing? Not really when you think that there are hundreds, maybe more than a thousand people on the lift.
Think about it, you are riding along in a chair lift and the chair lift stops immediately. If you have the comfort bar down you will be slammed into that bar at 5.5 to 14 miles per hour, dependent upon the type of chairlift you are on, fixed grip or detachable.
If the comfort bar is not down, as the chair swings forward, and upward you will leave the chair with not only gravity pulling you down, but momentum pushing you forward. Landing with skis or a snowboard and poles with your upper body leading the way becomes an exercise in futility for you and a YouTube video for everyone else. On high lifts leaving a detachable chair at 14 miles per hour, you will sail more than 30 feet before impacting the ground.
ANSI, (American National Standards Institute) standards on slowing lifts down (ANSI B77.1-2017) are specifically written so this does not happen. The lifts slow down at a specific speed over a certain distance so the other riders on the lift do not become airborne projectiles landing all over the slopes.
Consequently, chairlifts never stop immediately.
The Ski area, when asked for a response replied with this statement. “As a result of the investigation and a review of our internal policies and procedures, Wachusett intends to strive for a 100% Bar Down Policy.” I’m guessing that the bar in question is the comfort bar, which in this case does not seem to provide any answers.
The term comfort bar is used because the bars provide no safety to the riders sitting in the chairs.
If you want to use comfort bars, which some studies have shown increase your chance of any injury on the lift, lower the bar after the lift leaves the terminal. Prior to that, people are still getting organized and getting hit on the head by the bar as it is brought down by people believing it will save them from some type of injury.
In this case, the bar would have either hit the person on the head or upper torso knocking him off earlier, knocked him into the seat on top of someone else or provided something more to hang onto.
You assume the risk and are required to know how to use a chair lift or passenger tramway in all states, including Massachusetts.
§ 71O. Recreational Tramways — Conduct, Responsibilities, and Duties of Skiers.
A skier who boards a recreational tramway shall be presumed to have sufficient abilities to use the same, and shall follow any written or oral instruction given regarding its use, and no skier shall embark on a recreational tramway without authority of the operator.
Consequently, the facts of the case as reported by the plaintiff’s firm are confusing when applied to the law and the physics of using a chair lift at a ski resort.
James Moss is a Colorado-based attorney and founder of https://recreation-law.com/
Young skier injured in fall from lift at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area awarded $3.3M
Jury awards $3.2 million in damages to family of 12-year-old boy injured after falling off Wachusett Mountain ski lift
Boy Hurt In Fall From Wachusett Mountain Ski Lift Awarded $3.3 Million
ANSI B77.1 Ski Chair Lift Safety
Massachusetts Ski Safety Act