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Skiing Accidents

Leon Sponaugle and Trudy Sponaugle individually and as Parents and Next Friend of Matthew Sponaugle, a minor, v. Guest Services, Inc., and State Of West Virginia, Department Of Parkways Economic Development and Tourism Authority, Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, Civil Action No.: 96-C-2375

Type of Case: Ski Resort Liability

On March 5, 1995, 13-year-old Matt Sponaugle fell and slid into a light pole while skiing at Canaan Valley Resort. Matt suffered a complete paralysis injury because of hyper flexion at T8-T9. His medical bills were about $253,000. The Sponaugle family contacted several lawyers who turned down the case before Chris Heavens agreed to take the case. Suit was filed against Guest Services and the State of West Virginia because Guest Services runs Canaan Valley Resort and the State controls work performed on trails at the resort. Mr. Heavens alleged that Guest Services failed to properly maintain a pad on a light pole and that Matt Sponaugle struck the unpadded pole. Plaintiffs alleged that the unpadded pole was a proximate cause of the paralysis injury. Mr. Heavens retained a biomechanical expert from M.I.T. That expert testified that, if the pad was in proper position, it would have greatly limited flexion and prevented the paralysis injury. Mr. Heavens also retained a ski trail design expert who opined that the particular trail where the accident occurred was negligently designed and dangerous, and that that too was a proximate cause of Matt Sponaugle’s injuries. Defendants countered that the pad was properly maintained and the trail was properly designed and adequate. Defendants argued that Matt Sponaugle was skiing out of control and at excessive speed. Defendants also argued that they were immunized from liability under the Skiing Responsibility Act (W. Va. Code §20-3A-1, et seq.), and that they had no duty to pad the subject light pole because such a duty is not set forth in the Act. Result: Confidential Settlement.

Counsel: Christopher J. Heavens, Charleston, WV

David L. Smith vs. Guest Services, Inc., and State of West Virginia, Division of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation, Circuit Court of Kanawha County, Civil Action No.: 01-C-71

Type of Case: Ski Resort Liability

On December 22, 1995, David Smith fell and slid off of a trail while skiing at Canaan Valley Resort. David suffered a complete paralysis injury. Suit was filed against Guest Services and the State of West Virginia because Guest Services runs Canaan Valley Resort and the State controls work performed on trails at the resort. Chris Heavens learned about David Smith’s case while investigating Matt Sponaugle’s case (SEE: Sponaugle synopsis herein above). When Mr. Heavens contacted David Smith, he learned that several other lawyers had reviewed and refused to take David Smith’s case. Mr. Heavens agreed to take David Smith’s case. Mr. Heavens alleged that Guest Services failed to properly maintain the trail and to protect skiers from a foreseeable risk of going off of the trail and down into a creek bed. Mr. Heavens also alleged that the particular trail where the accident occurred was negligently designed and dangerous, and that the orange plastic containment fence at the edge of the trail was an inadequate method of preventing skiers from going off of the trail and into a creek bed.

Defendants countered that the trail was properly designed and adequate.

The defendants contended that the orange plastic containment fence was merely a “warning” fence not designed to keep skiers from going off of the trail, but merely designed to warn skiers that they are approaching the edge of the trail. Defendants argued that David Smith was skiing out of control and at excessive speed. Defendants also argued that they were immunized from liability under the Skiing Responsibility Act (W.Va. Code §20-3A-1, et seq.), and that they had no duty to place fencing or to maintain areas off of the trail in a safe condition because such duties are not set forth in the Act. Result: Confidential Settlement.

Counsel: Christopher J. Heavens, Charleston, WV

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