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JayB

Jury gives $14 mil to skier paralyzed at Snoqalmie

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"After a five-week trial, a King County jury on Friday awarded $14 million to a 27-year-old skier who was paralyzed after dropping 37 feet from a ski jump at the Summit at Snoqualmie.

 

Kenny Salvini, of Lake Tapps, was 23 years old when he went off the jump at the Central Terrain Park at Snoqualmie Central and landed on compact snow and ice in February 2004, said his attorney, Jack Connelly.

 

During the trial at the Regional Justice Center in Kent, "information came out ... that the man who built [the jump] eyeballed it with a Sno-Cat" rather than engineering a design, Connelly said.

 

Engineers and an aeronautics professor from the University of California, Davis, testified that the jump was improperly designed and featured a short landing area, Connelly said, adding that ski jumps are supposed to be sloped so that energy from a vertical jump is transferred into a skier's forward motion on landing.

 

"Going off this jump was the equivalent of jumping off a three-story building," Connelly said. "If you're going to be throwing kids 37 feet in the air, these jumps need to be engineered, designed and constructed properly."

 

Officials from the Summit at Snoqualmie on Friday afternoon wouldn't answer questions about the incident but released a statement. It said risk is inherent in snow sports, but, "that said, any time there is an incident, our genuine thoughts and prayers are with our guests and their families."

 

The statement said Summit officials "are disappointed but respectful of the [trial] process."

 

According to Connelly, other people were injured on the same jump in the weeks before Salvini's accident, including a snowboarder who broke his back. A week after Salvini was injured, 19-year-old Peter Melrose of Bellevue died going off a different jump at the same terrain park, he said.

 

"There were 10 accidents with eight people taken off the slope in a toboggan" in the weeks before Salvini was hurt, landing on what Connelly said was a flat surface. In all, he said, evidence of 15 earlier accidents was admitted into evidence but "nothing was done" by ski operators to fix or close the faulty jumps.

 

The full jury award was for about $31 million, Connelly said, explaining that the amount was decreased to $14 million after calculating "the comparative fault" of his client and "the inherent risk of the sport."

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Before he was injured, Salvini, now a quadriplegic, was captain of the wrestling team at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, where he graduated in engineering technology, Connelly said. His mother is now his full-time caregiver.

 

Over the course of his life, Salvini's medical needs are estimated to cost between $23 million and $26 million, Connelly said."

 

I feel bad for the guy, but this sets a very, very, very bad precedent. If there's anyplace where you voluntarily assume risk at a ski area, it's when you line up above a jump and make the decision to hit it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I think the two main reasons why this resulted in a payout to the plaintiff are 1) trial by jury (unavoidable sympathy bias) and 2) the ski area's negligent/dismissive attitude toward severe injuries happening in its terrain park at the time. Devastated young man vs. heartless company. It seems like not only did the ski area know exactly how badly people were hurting themselves on their huge(?) jumps, but also quite clearly didn't give a shit.

 

I'm very sympathetic to the 'ski at your own risk' philosophy, but misjudgments are a given. It's also given that the bigger you build jumps, the more severe the consequences of inevitable mistakes will be. Given these two facts, the ski area does in fact have control over how many severe self-inflicted injuries occur. Yet ski areas consciously decide that the appeasement of the status quo to 'go big' (i.e. keep the customers coming back) is more important than avoiding inevitable severe injuries.

 

I have mixed feelings about the legal implications of the ruling, but if anything, it screams "wake the fuck up" to ski areas that bring in a lot of dough by operating terrain parks. People maiming themselves in terrain parks could actually be bad for business. :rolleyes:

 

But looking at it from the other side, what can a ski area do to reduce the rate of severe accidents in big terrain parks? How do you protect the naive/dumb and aggressive from themselves? I think it would have to do something with restricted access and a second waiver.

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Agreed.

 

Sounds like he had the opportunity to roll the take-off to feel how it would kick him.

 

I can remember backing off hits in the park many times because of the flat looking landings.

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"Yet ski areas consciously decide that the appeasement of the status quo to 'go big' (i.e. keep the customers coming back) is more important than avoiding inevitable severe injuries."

 

Don't hit parks much do ya? The number of people that hit a jump is inversely proportional to its size. I'd almost wager that the number decreases as the square of the hypotenuse formed by the back of the jump and the tabletop. Even in the biggest parks, the number of people that hit the biggest jumps is in the single digits on any given day.

 

The real money maker/crowd-attractor is groomed slopes, and you could make a much more convincing argument that pervasive grooming results in a situation where rank beginners who lack both the skill and the judgment required to control their speed end up skiing way too fast and endanger both themselves and their fellow skiers.

 

"I think it would have to do something with restricted access and a second waiver."

 

I think you are correct here. I'd be amazed if this is the only ramification of this ruling, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"The number of people that hit a jump is inversely proportional to its size. ... Even in the biggest parks, the number of people that hit the biggest jumps is in the single digits on any given day."

 

Well by that reasoning the accident rate just gets higher (15/x?). So the ski area management was either oblivious, or consciously ignoring the problem. Either way that's bad business. For lack of a better explanation, they assumed that they didn't have to do anything about it because they couldn't be sued. Cop out?

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Bah!

 

People should assume responsibility for taking risks instead of dropping it on the ski resort. If some kid wants to huck off a 40 foot step down than man up and take the consequences. No one pushed him down the hill, held a gun to his head, and said "Gap this". In Europe/Canada this would never have reached a courtroom.

 

The problem with this ruling is that it might not bode well for resort mountain biking. I read this case report on ridemonkey like 2 months ago.

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I'm thinking about two different arguments. The first is, do we as a society have the collective responsibility to help prevent the naive/stupid/hyper-aggressive from accidentally maiming/killing themselves? The second is, should the operator of a business be compelled to respond in some way to repeated severe accidents occurring on a particular artificially engineered feature?

 

I say no generally to the first one, even though there are many counterexamples (such as protecting youth by controlling their behavior). On the second, I think recreational parks do need to try actively to cut down on the devastating injuries. I'm not saying I know the best way to do that, but then again I'm not running the business.

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Even in the biggest parks, the number of people that hit the biggest jumps is in the single digits on any given day.

 

 

Never been to Blackcomb huh? Lineups on the big park all day. Whistler/Blackcomb takes an interesting approach, with separate use fees for the big park, and mandatory helmets. They have also been building top notch parks for more than a decade.

 

The Pass frankly used to buld piss poor parks and severely lagged behind the times. I havent ridden snowboard parks much in the last few years, but I hear they have finally gotten better. Big jumps are not necessarily a lot more dangerous, but they do need to be built properly. Usually that means a long steep landing. The pass had a tendency to build decently sized, but by no means large jumps, with a very short steep landing. Unless you had the speed just right you either didnt make the landing, or you clear the landing, which hurts a lot. People complained constantly, but they didnt ever respond. I think the management figured that the less mass a jump had, the safer it inherently was. I have mixed feelings about the verdict, on one hand it points out the poor practices of the ski area. On the other hand riding a snowboard park has inherent risks and you pretty much assume you will get hurt pretty bad from time to time.

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Without know all the facts or knowing much about terrain park design I think it's a bit of a tough issue. I have little or no sympathy for someone who goes through the "Closed Area" sign and falls off a cliff and gets injured or killed but when you pay a good chunk of money to ride at a commercial ski area you assume that the people making these jumps are employing the best standards for designing them. There seems to be a fair amount of evidence that there were problems with this jump and nothing was done to correct it. I suppose they could have put a sign up that noted that several people have been severly injured on the jump so proceed at your own risk but that wouldn't probably be very good for business. I tend to stick to the groomed runs and close to the ground.

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Speaking as someone who loves to chuck their meat once in a while, I'll say I'll never hit a jump so hard the first time that it will launch me 37 feet in the air. You have to be going pretty damn fast to be launched 37 feet in the air, no matter what kind of jump it is. That is ridiculous. He was obviously going too fast.

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I have a very strong hunch the 37 ft is misrepresented in the article and quote from the lawyer. Either the horizontal distance was 37 ft, or else the net vertical drop from the apex of jump to bottom of the landing was 37 ft. I think the 1st is most likely, although the 2nd is still somewhat reasonable.

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I don't think they could have actually known it was 37 feet. They probably just estimated the maximum theoretical height one could conceivably have fallen vertically.

 

People routinely huck 100+ foot cliffs without injury--albeit into powder. Other people were reportedly hitting this particular jump without problems. The problem is that risk requires skill (including the ability to judge terrain), and the vast majority of ski area patrons aren't prepared. Maybe they should hand out day passes to the 'big' park only at the bottom of the 'small' park, and only after a clean, controlled run.

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By the same thought process which focuses on assessing blame rather than assessing responsibility for one's actions you could make an argument that TGR, MSP, Warren Miller, a ton of small ski film makers should cough up a few bucks because it might be inferred that their irresponsible film making causes people to want to do stuff they are not properly trained or prepared for. Mmmmmm?

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Just for reference purposes, this is a pro skier getting 36 feet of air off of a 20+ foot quarter pipe after being towed downhill by a snowmobile.

 

war.jpg

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Even in the biggest parks, the number of people that hit the biggest jumps is in the single digits on any given day.

 

 

Never been to Blackcomb huh? Lineups on the big park all day. Whistler/Blackcomb takes an interesting approach, with separate use fees for the big park, and mandatory helmets. They have also been building top notch parks for more than a decade.

 

The Pass frankly used to buld piss poor parks and severely lagged behind the times. I havent ridden snowboard parks much in the last few years, but I hear they have finally gotten better. Big jumps are not necessarily a lot more dangerous, but they do need to be built properly. Usually that means a long steep landing. The pass had a tendency to build decently sized, but by no means large jumps, with a very short steep landing. Unless you had the speed just right you either didnt make the landing, or you clear the landing, which hurts a lot. People complained constantly, but they didnt ever respond. I think the management figured that the less mass a jump had, the safer it inherently was. I have mixed feelings about the verdict, on one hand it points out the poor practices of the ski area. On the other hand riding a snowboard park has inherent risks and you pretty much assume you will get hurt pretty bad from time to time.

 

I've hit the Blackcomb parks from time to time for ~10 years, and was just there for a week about a month ago, and spent about 1/2 of my time in the park. Even on the weekend, there was never a line for the biggest jumps outside of the XL park. Mid-sized jumps yes, big ones, no. Maybe this is atypical for Whistler, but even back East where there's absolutely nothing worthwhile to ski outside the park, the biggest jumps tend to have a crew of ~20 dudes in their late teens that run laps on them, and when they aren't riding together, there's just no lines for the biggest stuff.

 

Anyhow - this is peripheral. There are good jumps and bad jumps, and some are safer than others - but it's hard to imagine building a jump that's safe for all skill levels under all conditions. Conditions change all day - the inrun may get soft and a starting point that put you right in the landing's sweet spot may leave you decking out in a massive way in the afternoon, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc - and the inverse could happen and put you way into the flats in backbreaking land if you don't judge the speed correctly. I've certainly done both, but it was my fault for misjudging the conditions. Even if the resort had provided physicist and an engineer at the start of the inrun to tell me the exact speed I'd need to hit the landing just right, and provided me with a spedometer - that doesn't guarantee that I wouldn't biff the jump in some fashion or another and wreck myself in a spectacular fashion.

 

 

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It is interesting how different ski resorts build jumps, and I do think that some do significantly better than others.

 

At SkiBowl, in one particular area, they had one large jump with several "medium" ones. I must have hit that 20 times, and never once could I get up enough speed to hit the landing area. I proabably saw 3 people land it all day. Nobody got hurt, that I saw, but it was odd to have such different sizes in a single run.

 

At Bachelor, I about slaughtered myself on a jump that had an incredibly steep high take-off and a disproportionately short (close) landing. I must have cleared the landing by a good ten feet, and obviously dropped a looooong way to the ground. Costochondritis hurts, and even Vicodin doesn't totally relieve the pain.

 

Obviously, a lot of my fault, but if I were laying out and building these jumps I think I would consider a few additional factors.

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'Hearsay Alert' - So I talked to a friend who is friends with the park manager at snoqualmie. The basic story was that the kid was trying to jump from one table top (jump) to another. This almost certainly was not the intent of the park designer, regardless of how poorly built the individual jumps were.

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It is interesting how different ski resorts build jumps, and I do think that some do significantly better than others.

 

At SkiBowl, in one particular area, they had one large jump with several "medium" ones. I must have hit that 20 times, and never once could I get up enough speed to hit the landing area. I proabably saw 3 people land it all day. Nobody got hurt, that I saw, but it was odd to have such different sizes in a single run.

 

At Bachelor, I about slaughtered myself on a jump that had an incredibly steep high take-off and a disproportionately short (close) landing. I must have cleared the landing by a good ten feet, and obviously dropped a looooong way to the ground. Costochondritis hurts, and even Vicodin doesn't totally relieve the pain.

 

Obviously, a lot of my fault, but if I were laying out and building these jumps I think I would consider a few additional factors.

 

Moderately off-topic here, but..

 

How did you know you had costochondritis, and how long did it take to go away? I've had pain in my rib-cage after running, lifting, paddling - basically anything involving torso-twisting ever since the last 1/3rd of the season - when I took my most severe beatings in the park. I'm wondering if I may have just repeatedly bruised the hell out of the tissue surrounding my ribcage and its taking a long time to heal.

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No worries....I should set the stage...

 

As I said, I overshot the landing zone....literally. I'm one of those people who lands and immediately slows heelside, but since I expected to land earlier, I was rotating in that direction already. To compensate, I kinda leaned forward, and so I basically landed on my ass sort of performing a crunch to the forward and right.

 

Took me about 10 minutes to get up. I managed it down to a lift and then up top. When I got off it took me about 15 minutes to bend over far enough to strap in. Then I rode down. I actually went to the med hut and had them take a look, as I couldn't breathe more than halfway in without serious pain.

 

The measured 02, blood pressure, the typical stuff and suggested that I hit the emergency room. I went to an urgent care facility in Bend. The gist - nothing broken, but the doc diagnosed costochondritis. Gave me painkillers and anti-inflammatory, and said if I did nothing it should go away in 2-3 weeks. (She said it was likely that I damaged 2-3 joints there between the cartilage and bone, but in the joints closer to my side as opposed to the center of my chest.)

 

Well, I started back to jogging and lifting too soon probably. It still pains me now and again, and its been 4 weeks. I cant do any abdominal exercises (or too much triceps interestingly) or I think I'm gonna die.

 

But, I can tell it's getting better. Probably another week or two to 100%, I hope!!

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I am no jump expert but I refuse to take my girls to Snoqualmie pass anymore due to what I percieve to be a lack of concern for public safety by the hill management and ski patrol.

When my youngest was 5 yrs old, she was hit 5 different times by young snowboarders. 3 times in one day. One of those times, a ski patrol man skied up and asked if she was OK. I asked him if he was going to radio someone to stop the snowboarder escaping in plain view. He said that " nothing would be gained by seeking revenge."

My wife (at the time) went down and spoke to hill management and they told her that they can not control everyone on the hill and we would have to be willing to accept responsibility for possible accidents. So much for being reponsible for avoiding the person below you.

Neither daughter has ever been hit at Stevens Pass. What could be the difference I wounder?

Maybe its the ski patrol people at Stevens who stop out of control skiers and boarders and make them aware of the rules.

Just a thought.

I do not pity the management at Snoqualmie pass.

In fact, its about freakin time.

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Having had a number of friends that have been paralyzed/ killed while skiing/ boarding, I find little sympathy for suing the ski area.

Natural and man made hazards exist, use good judgment and a healthy respect for your situation.

 

 

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Taken independently, each of the accidents was (obviously) caused by an irresponsible lack of judgment on the skiers' part--no case, and the judge said as much in reducing the settlement. But it seems this case, whether it should have been or not, was really about condemning the ski area for ignoring the strong correlation between the broken backs, paralysis, and even death as a possible indicator of poor engineering. Even if paralysis or death is an inevitable characteristic of a good terrain park these days :mistat:, a ski area ought to at least investigate serious accidents in case there is something they can fix. Or did they? I guess we haven't really heard the other side of the story.

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