Who Michael Sura Tried to Blame After Bone-Breaking Ski Accident Lawsuit

Mick's Gully at the Snowmass ski area, where the accident took place.
Mick's Gully at the Snowmass ski area, where the accident took place. YouTube file photo
Last January, we told you about an unusual ski-injury lawsuit in which the man accused of injuring another skier while racing in a reckless fashion was 72 years old. That defendant, Michael Sura, has now settled the suit, but not before his attorneys attempted to blame the accident that broke Stuart Pendleton's ankle on Snowmass, the ski resort where the incident took place, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a charity group, the Disabled American Veterans.

The suit is accessible below, and while attorney Paige Singleton, who represents Pendleton, declined to comment on the settlement, which is confidential, she spoke to us at length for our original post. "To me, these ski-collision cases are very similar to car-crash cases," she told us at the time. "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."

That doesn't mean, however, that Singleton saw Sura as too old to ski safely. "I'm not an ageist," she stressed. "But I also don't think that just because you're in your seventies, you can't go fast on skis."

The original 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 explained. "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 continued, 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:

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 after the suit was filed, mentioned 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, had never had such an accident before and scoffed at the notion that he was racing anyone. He also argued 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" made 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 reported that it could find no corroborating witnesses or paperwork from the Snowmass Medical Clinic to confirm that Pendleton was treated there — a fact that inspired an unnamed source to suggest that he may have been exaggerating his injuries. This surprised Singleton, who divulged 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."

This revelation turned into a legal tactic. The Aspen Daily News obtained a court filing from May categorized as a non-party designation. The document said parties that may have been responsible for the accident included the Aspen Skiing Co., which owns Snowmass, over its alleged duty to warn skiers that a group of disabled skiers would be on the mountain that day; the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, because it "failed to properly train and equip its volunteers and failed to warn and protect its volunteers and disabled skiers from known difficult terrain on Snowmass Ski Resort"; and the Disabled Veterans of America and two other volunteers.

Given the settlement, this gambit clearly didn't work. In the end, Sura took responsibility for his actions, if only to make the lawsuit go away.

Click to read the original complaint: Stuart Pendleton v. Michael Sura.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts