72-Year-Old at Center of Contentious Ski-Crash Lawsuit
We tend to associate most ski-slope accidents with young skiers. Witness the case of Tom Dubert, who received a jury award of more than $263,000 after being struck and injured by a snowboarder who was living with his parents at the time of the collision.
The ski-accident lawsuit filed by Stuart Pendleton over an incident at Snowmass is very different: Michael Sura, the defendant in the case, is 72 years old. Yet the complaint filed on behalf of Pendleton, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, contends that Sura was racing another skier at the time of the crash at what the complaint, on view below, describes as a "fast and uncontrolled speed."
Friends of Sura have come forward to publicly dispute this characterization and plenty more from the lawsuit.
As for attorney Paige Singleton, who represents Pendleton, she says that "to me, these ski-collision cases are very similar to car-crash cases. When you're driving negligently, you can cause someone injury, and the same thing can happen on the ski slope. You have the same duty to maintain control and be aware of the conditions."
Singleton denies suggesting, in another corollary to driving, that Sura is too old to ski safely. "I'm not an ageist," she stresses. "But I also don't think that just because you're in your seventies, you can't go fast on skis."
The incident took place on April 7, 2016, when Pendleton was serving as a volunteer for the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic at Snowmass — an event depicted in the following video.
"They do it at Snowmass every year," Singleton explains. "About 400 disabled veterans come and participate in the clinic. Some are new skiers, some are experienced. Mr. Pendleton came up from New Mexico. I think it was his second or third year volunteering at the event."
On the day in question, Singleton continues, Pendleton, who's in his forties, "was working with a disabled skier in what's called a bi-ski — essentially a sit-down ski. And Stuart was skiing with him, holding on to the tethers at Mick's Gully, an open blue run at Snowmass."
Note that ski slopes are color- and symbol-coded by level of difficulty. A blue run is the second-easiest designation (after green) and less difficult than slopes marked red, black diamond or double black diamond.
At that time, according to the complaint, Sura was skiing uphill from Pendleton on the run and "was racing another skier." The suit adds that "upon information and belief, Defendant did not have control of his speed" and "was not looking out for downhill skiers" even though he "knew or should have known that there were hundreds of disabled skiers" at the resort.
An instant later, the suit goes on, Sura struck both Pendleton and the bi-ski, sending the disabled skier skidding twenty feet down the trail and causing "serious and permanent injury to Plaintiff, including but not limited to a bi-malleolar fracture of his left ankle."
This video offers a look at Mick's Gully:
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Sura didn't come out of the situation unscathed. The suit says that he "slid over a hundred yards" after wiping out. Moreover, Chicago's Randy Wolf, who corresponded with the Aspen Times via e-mail, reveals that Sura, a friend with whom he was skiing that day, seriously hurt his ankle, too. The injury is said to have required several surgeries, the installation of nine screws and lengthy rehab.
Wolf also stressed to the Times that Sura, an experienced skier who's lived in the Snowmass area for nearly four decades, has never had such an accident before and scoffs at the notion that he was racing anyone. He also argues that Pendleton and the disabled skier were in a blind spot that increased the danger for all concerned.
That "Mr. Sura's friends are upset and that they'd come out and defend their friend" makes perfect sense to Singleton. But in her view, "the Colorado Ski Safety Act is very clear. The duty is on you to avoid downhill skiers, and that means maintaining control of your speed and keeping a proper lookout, understanding that sometimes there are going to be blind spots."
Meanwhile, the Times reports that it could find no corroborating witnesses or paperwork from the Snowmass Medical Clinic to confirm that Pendleton was treated there — a fact that inspires an unnamed source to suggest that he may be exaggerating his injuries. This surprises Singleton, who reveals that "Stuart was taken to the disabled vets' clinic," not the Snowmass Medical Clinic, "because he was working for the VA. He was treated by VA doctors, who set up their own clinic for the event because there were so many veterans who participate in it."
Regarding monetary damages, Singleton doesn't mention a specific amount. But, she says, "Stuart is a very active person. His story shows that. He's very into the outdoors, hiking and skiing, and this injury has really impacted his ability for a long time to enjoy life and do the outdoor activities he loves — and he certainly was immobile for a long period of time."
She doesn't doubt that Sura is very comfortable on the slopes. "The information we have is that he's been skiing for over sixty years and skis about eighty days a year," she says. "But Stuart was injured because of his negligence, and if we don't reach a settlement, a jury will decide how much that's worth."
Here's the lawsuit.