Tragedy narrowly averted at Montana ski resort

On Behalf of | May 19, 2023 | Premises Liability

As reported by The Missoulian about a month ago, a father and his four-year-old son were at a ski resort in the Lolo National Forest, riding on a chairlift, when the chair swung violently, hit a tower, and threw the child overboard. The father claims his son sustained a 12-to-15 foot fall.

The child survived the fall. It hasn’t been reported if he sustained injuries.

After the fall, the lift attendant went up to the little boy, hugged him, and then announced they’d restart the lift right away.

The father told The Missoulian that no one examined the chair or the cables. No due diligence of any sort was done to guard against another accident of this sort happening again.

Upon inquiry by The Missoulian, the ski resort owner stated that their engineers inspected the chairlift and surmised that an unbalanced load caused it to swing. The owner also said the chairs were light and “get to swaying pretty badly” at times.

The Lolo National Forest land management agency which allows the resort to operate through a special use permit subsequently closed down the chairlift until an investigation could be completed.

Premises liability

The ski resort is a public property that has a duty to its visitors to ensure its premises are reasonably safe and a duty to warn of potential hazards.

Modified comparative negligence

After finding duty and likely breach of duty, the next element of a negligence claim is that of “cause.” Did the negligence of the defendant cause the harm done to the plaintiff?

Here, the ski resort owner moved quickly to transfer responsibility to the plaintiff, saying the chair had been loaded improperly.

If this case is litigated and plaintiff is shown to bear partial responsibility, damages recovered will be reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s contributory role. If plaintiff is found to be more than 50% liable for the accident, there will be no recovery of damages.

3-year statute of limitations

For a plaintiff to file a lawsuit for an accident, the clock starts ticking typically on the date of the accident. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the plaintiff is a minor, the clock doesn’t start until the plaintiff turns 18, which leaves a lot of time for this story to unfold.

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