January 12, 2011

Skiers hurt in Maine derailment hire law firm

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

At least five of the skiers who fell when a chairlift derailed at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort have retained a law firm to represent them in potential injury claims, according to a Lewiston-based attorney.

Spillway East Chairlift, Sugarloaf Mountain
click image to enlarge

A rope prevents access to the Spillway East chairlift on the day after the Dec. 28 cable derailment that left eight skiers injured when five chairs fell to the ground. Michael Katz, a state senator from Delaware, and his two young daughters were among those injured.

2010 AP file

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They appear to be the first people injured in the accident to explore a legal claim, which could test a three-decade-old Maine law that often protects ski resorts from legal responsibility for more common accidents.

The five potential plaintiffs include two of the most seriously injured skiers and members of their families who were hurt when their chairs fell as far as 35 feet to the snow.

A total of eight injured skiers were treated at hospitals after the Spillway East chairlift derailed Dec. 28.

Sugarloaf workers had decided to empty, then shut down, the lift because of misaligned cable when the cable derailed and five chairs hit the snow. The accident remains under investigation and the lift remains closed for additional testing this week, a Sugarloaf spokesman said.

Benjamin Gideon, an attorney with Berman & Simmons in Lewiston, said his firm is notifying Sugarloaf this week that it represents the five skiers and that any contact with them should be directed to the firm. Gideon said he could not provide any details of the injuries or the size of any potential claim.

"All five sought medical attention, some more serious than others," he said. "The first step is to conduct a thorough investigation (of the cause). In this case, there is an investigation ongoing by the agency responsible for inspecting the lifts."

A Sugarloaf spokesman said the resort had not heard from Gideon or any other lawyer representing skiers injured in the accident.

"We've been in touch with everybody who was on the lift, including everybody who was injured. We're working with them and addressing their concerns and needs as best as we can on an individual basis," said Ethan Austin.

He said he could not provide any more details about those discussions or the resort's legal responsibilities.

"We do have liability insurance through a number of different sources for injury cases like this," he said.

The skiers who retained Berman & Simmons include Michael Katz, a Delaware state senator, and his two young daughters.

Katz, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist who once attended Bates College in Lewiston, was considered the most seriously injured skier after the fall. He was taken by helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland and was admitted for treatment.

Two children were among the seven people who were taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, although their names and the nature of their injuries have not been released.

"The chairs fell to the ground," Katz told The News Journal of Delaware this week. "I would prefer not to go into the details of the medical details. ... We really are focusing on the family privacy and just allowing everybody to heal."

Katz and his wife own a home near the base of Sugarloaf, in Carrabassett Valley, although he is now at home in Delaware, according to an aide. He has not returned calls from MaineToday Media.

Katz told The News Journal that he is walking slowly, but intended to be in Dover on Tuesday for the start of the 2011 legislative session.

"I wouldn't miss the first day," said Katz, who plans to be back at his medical practice later this week.

The other two skiers who retained Berman & Simmons are Rick Tonge of Belgrade and his son, Andy. They were riding in the last chair that passed a tower halfway up Spillway East before the cable derailed at that tower.

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