Brighton ski resort to appeal decision
Court rules against facility in lawsuit filed by skier injured on snowboard trail
Monday, 7, 2004
BY LIZ COBBS
News Staff Reporter
Mt. Brighton Ski Area wasn't protected by a state law governing ski safety when it failed to mark a snowboard skiing area, resulting in an Alpine skier being injured by a snowboard rail, a state appellate panel has determined.
In an opinion released Friday, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that the ski area should have posted warnings about a snowboard rail to keep Alpine skiers away. The court said Mt. Brighton isn't protected in this instance by the Ski Area Safety Act, which provides ski hill operators protection from liability in lawsuits when skiers are injured as a result of inherent dangers involved in downhill skiing.
The panel's decision stemmed from a 1997 lawsuit filed in Livingston County Circuit Court by Belleville resident, Matthew Barrett, against the Mt. Brighton Ski Area.
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This is the second time the appeals court rendered a decision in this case. The latest opinion was a result of the state Supreme Court directing the panel to reconsider its first decision made two years ago.
Mt. Brighton will once again appeal to the state Supreme Court, said its attorney, Scott D. Feringa, of Southfield.
'We believe the Court of Appeals absolutely misrepresented the Supreme Court's directions and now mandated what appears to be separate areas for snowboarders and alpine skiers,' Feringa said.
Barrett's attorney, Ronald S. Smith, of Bloomfield Hills, said barring any more appeals by the defendant, Barrett's lawsuit can finally go to trial.
'He'd like his day in court,' Smith said. 'He'd like a jury to listen to the evidence and listen to how the ski operator was neglectful.'
Barrett severely fractured his ankle on Feb. 5, 1997 when he struck the 20-foot long snowboard rail, which stood about a foot above the snow line. Smith said Barrett had to undergo surgery and extensive physical therapy, preventing him from working or going to school.
Mt. Brighton's general manager, James Bruhn, testified in a previous deposition that the area was a snowboard park for snowboarders and included a halfpipe as well as a snowboard rail. He testified it was 'off-limits to Alpine skiers' who, when detected in the area, were 'told to leave either by snowboarders, the ski patrol, or through an announcement made over the personal address system.' He said there were no signs telling Alpine skiers to 'stay out of the area.'
Mt. Brighton originally appealed after it asked Livingston County Circuit Judge Stanley Latreille to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that the snowboard rail was an open and obvious danger inherent in the sport of skiing. Barrett's attorney argued the rail is not inherent to the sport of skiing because Alpine skiers do not use such rails.
In January 2002, the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed Latreille's decision not to dismiss the case.
Mt. Brighton appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the appeals court for reconsideration in light of certain standards within the state Ski Area Safety Act and a 2003 case involving another Michigan ski operator. The appellate panel's majority reaffirmed its decision.
Judges Mark J. Cavanagh and Patrick Meter held that 'ski area operators are not granted a license by the (Ski Area Safety Act) to disregard skier safety ... (Mt. Brighton) knew that Alpine skiers were skiing in the restricted area, whether by accident or choice, and yet did next to nothing to prevent or even warn of the potential and reasonably unexpected danger.'
Judge Brian Zahra, however, disagreed.
'There is nothing to support the conclusion that (Barrett) would have stayed off the snowboard run had he known its degree of difficulty ... Any lack of signage ... did not cause plaintiff's injury,' Zahra wrote.