Peter Chamas, representing the child’s estate, and a central Pennsylvania ski resort reached a $4 million settlement in a wrongful death and survival action stemming from an accident with a snow grooming machine.
A couple from Brick Township, NJ, along with their 11-year-old son, were vacationing at the Alpine Mountain Ski Resort in Price Township. At approximately 9:35 am, the father and son ascended the beginner ski lift, as the main ski lift was not in operation at the time.
At the same time, the resort’s mountain manager had traveled to the top of the mountain in a snow grooming machine to groom the ramp area where the lift lets people off. After he finished grooming the ramp area, he descended from the mountain and was planning to park the machine, which has a plow on the front and a tiller on the back. Before parking the machine, however, the operator began spreading snow in the parking area along the ski patrol building to prevent the machine’s tracks from getting dirt and gravel in them.
The father, on skis, descended the mountain first, skiing behind the path of the snow grooming machine and coming to a stop at the base of the mountain. His son followed on a snowboard, stopping approximately 50 feet behind the machine. There was a conflicting testimony over whether his son purposely came to a stop or fell, and whether the grooming machine started backing up after he fell or sat down, or whether it was already in the process of backing up. Nonetheless, after stopping, he attempted to take his snowboard off while on the ground behind the snow grooming machine.
The machine operator, meanwhile, began backing up the snow grooming machine, unaware that the boy was behind him. A ski instructor, observing the situation, began to yell to the snow grooming operator, as did the father. But due to the loud diesel engine, the operator did not hear these cries to stop. The track of the grooming machine ultimately backed over the boy, killing him.
The estate brought a wrongful death and survival action, while the father bought a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiffs alleged that the resort failed to follow proper procedures when operating a snow grooming machine on the mountain and also stated there was no ski patrol escorting the machine at the time of the accident, which violated the resort’s policies and procedures. The plaintiffs also asserted that the ski lift operator was not taught proper procedure regarding when to allow patrons on the mountain.
At a pre-trial conference with Senior Judge William J. Nealon, the case settled for $4 million.