Sued skier blames Aspen Skiing Co., vets group for Snowmass crash
May 14, 2017
ASPEN —Aspen Skiing Co., the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans are among the five parties a Snowmass Village man has assigned blame to for a skiing collision that has put him on the defense in Denver federal court.
Michael Sura is being sued for negligent skiing by Santa Fe, New Mexico, resident Stuart Pendleton. Pendleton's civil complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver in December. It accuses Sura of skiing negligently when he collided with Pendleton on the Mick's Gully run at Snowmass ski area April 7, 2016.
Pendleton's lawsuit claims he was working as a volunteer instructor for the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic in Snowmass, an annual event that attracts veterans and active-duty military members who are disabled.
Sometime after 10:30 that morning, a paraplegic skier with Pendleton "slid to a stop and his bi-ski tipped over" about midway down Mick's Gully, the suit says.
"At or around that time, defendant Michael Sura approached (Pendleton) and the disabled skier at a fast and uncontrolled speed," the suit alleges. "As (Pendleton) and the disabled skier prepared to start skiing again, (Sura) collided directly into (Pendleton)."
The suit also alleges Sura also hit the bi-ski, a device consisting of two skis attached to a bucket seat.
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After the suit was filed, friends of Sura's who were with him that morning said he was skiing in control and at a relaxed pace, while the crash left him with a broken ankle resulting in multiple surgeries.
The disabled skier, meanwhile, was laying on his side in a blind-spot section of the run, they said.
On May 5, Sura's legal team filed what's called a "non-party designation" that casts blame on the Washington, D.C.-based Department of Veteran Affairs, Kentucky-based Disabled American Veterans, Skico and two individuals who volunteered at the event.
The filing claims that both Veteran Affairs and Disabled American Veterans "had a duty to properly train and equip its volunteers for tethering a bi-ski disabled skier and to warn and to protect volunteers and disabled skiers from known difficult terrain exposing such volunteers and disabled skiers to unnecessary risk." They also are accused of not properly training their volunteers.
Skico, Sura's brief says, "had a duty to warn skiers that disabled veterans would be skiing at Snowmass Mountain" the day in question, and it "had a duty to warn participants in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic of dangerous or difficult terrain within certain ski slopes, including Mick's Gulley."
Volunteer instructors Andrew Duff of Salt Lake City and Kevin Fitzpatrick of Massachusetts also are named as non-parties. Both of them were with Pendleton at the time of the collision and "had a duty to keep a proper lookout to protect the disabled skier and the plaintiff while they were in a blindspot," the filing contends.
Attorney Steven York of the Denver firm York, Benson & Evans PC, which is defending Sura, declined comment last week.
However, Paige Singleton of the Denver law firm Leventhal & Puga PC, which filed the complaint, said "we were quite surprised" by the non-party filing.
Should the case go to trial, a jury could find the non-parties, while not defendants in the case, were liable in the accident.
"They will not be brought in the lawsuit and they will not be served," Singleton said.
But a jury could, in theory, assign percentages of blame to the non-parties, she said.
Singleton said the plaintiffs will not amend their complaint to add the non-parties as defendants, in light of Sura's recent legal strategy.
"The non-party designation is an affirmative defense, so the burden is on the defense to show that those non-parties are at fault," she said.
Pendleton received medical treatment in Grand Junction for injuries from the crash, Singleton said.
The suit says Pendleton injured his ankle, and a collision-report form from Skico says he was unable to sign it because of a hand injury.
In the report, Pendleton stated to ski patrol: "My disabled skier slid to a stop, we got up, started to ski and got nailed by a skier."