$8.3 Million Verdict for Minor Suffering Traumatic Brain Injury

A 17 year-old skier was night skiing down Eagle’s Swoop, an open intermediate slope at Wintergreen ski resort in Nelson County, Virginia. On the night of the accident, a snow groomer emerged from the tree line on skier’s left of Eagle’s Swoop, pivoted uphill, and then began driving about 300′ straight uphill close to the tree line and against the direction of skier traffic, while the ski run was open to the skiing public. Client came over the crest of the pitch, up which the snow groomer was ascending. She avoided the escorting snowmobile, lost control, fell and slid at high speed about 90 feet into the blade of the groomer. She sustained a comminuted fracture to her left humerus, a fracture of her left elbow and a non-displaced pelvic fracture. She also sustained a severe right frontal skull fracture. She went into respiratory arrest at the scene and was resuscitated by the patroller who had been riding the snowmobile. She was evacuated by helicopter to the trauma center. Her orthopedic injuries healed, but her skull fracture resulted in a permanent brain injury with extensive loss of function.

Plaintiff contended that the policy of bringing the groomer out into the slope, through a break in the tree line, pivoting uphill, and then driving the groomer uphill against skier traffic was unreasonably dangerous. Moreover, there was a blind area where the groomer was moving: from uphill, as she descended, a skier’s visibility of the run on which the groomer was moving was either obscured or partially obscured. The ski area operator specifically approved the policy of moving groomers on open slopes with an escorting snow mobile but prohibiting actual grooming on open ski slopes. The case was tried in Circuit Court for the County of Albemarle, Virginia.

The jury awarded $8.3 million. The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the Defendant’s Petition of Appeal on July 7, 2005. Jim Chalat co-counseled the case with Bryan Slaughter of Michie Hamlett Lowry Rasmussen & Tweel, of Charlottesville, Virginia.

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