- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Resorts
- Published: April 10, 2014
- Last Updated: April 10, 2014
Does Mt. Hood Skibowl promote an “alcohol-fueled” culture of drunken risk-taking?
Does Skibowl turn a blind eye to skiers and snowboarders who are obviously drunk and allow them to share the slopes with “sober patrons, including women and children?”
Did Skibowl owner Kirk Hanna “lead by example” by driving under the influence and injuring a bicyclist in a hit-and-run accident in 2010?
Those are the uncomfortable questions at the center of a $900,000 lawsuit filed by Portland attorney L.G. Billy Dalto and his client Maria Magdalena Stanila, who was injured in a 2012 collision with an allegedly drunk snowboarder named Kyle “Roundhouse” Sullivan.
The lawsuit contends that the 35-year-old Stanila has lost the use of one of her kidneys following the collision and “may never successfully become pregnant” due to her injuries.
The suit also argues that the 30-year-old Sullivan was visibly intoxicated on the day of the accident, had been kicked out of Skibowl bars in the past, and was carrying beer in his pocket when he crashed into Stanila.
Large issues at stake
Dalto, a former State Representative in the Oregon Legislature, said in an email to Shred Hood that “the issues at stake in this case are important to patrons of ski resorts in Oregon and beyond.”
Skibowl’s attorney, Brad Stanford, recently defeated a $4.6 million wrongful death lawsuit in court, and he said Skibowl will “vigorously defend” the Stanila case as well.
“The language in the complaint is all hyperbole,” Stanford said. “There is no factual basis to it. If this guy was intoxicated, and we don’t know that he was, he didn’t get intoxicated at a place operated and run by Skibowl.”
Stanford said Skibowl’s bartenders do not serve people who are visibly intoxicated. Ski patrol and lift operators are authorized to pull the passes of guests who are a danger to themselves or others, and occasionally they do. “But ski patrol can’t control the individual choices people make on the hill,” Stanford said. “It’s not the ski area’s job to do that. It’s the individual’s. It’s up to the skier or the rider.”
Very different cases
The last case that attempted to pin blame on Skibowl for an on-hill accident was decided promptly in favor of Skibowl. A Multnomah County jury awarded no money to the family of Taylur DeWolf in a wrongful death lawsuit decided in December of 2013.
But the two cases are very different.
The central argument of the DeWolf case, that the Dog Leg trail should have been marked a black-diamond expert run because of its inherent danger, simply did not pass the straight-face test with most experienced Mount Hood skiers and snowboarders, and the jury didn’t buy it either.
The alcohol issue is trickier. Skibowl, like every ski resort in the world, does make money selling alcohol. You can do shot-skis there, or sip a nice Morroco, or pound Pils, or occasionally get a shot poured into your mouth by the Jaeger girls. These things are well known. Beer and liquor are undeniably a part of the Mount Hood culture, and drunk assholes do exist on the mountain, although thankfully they are rare. Is it up to the ski resort to deal with these idiots? Or are drunks on the slopes just one more potential hazard to be aware of, along with trees and cliffs and chairlift poles?
Under Oregon law, skiers and snowboarders assume the inherent risks of the sport when they sign the release required to buy a lift ticket. But the legal validity of those releases are being challenged in a case that has made its way to the Oregon Supreme Court, Bagley vs. Mt. Bachelor.
Myles Bagley was paralyzed from the waist down in 2006 after crashing in one of Bachelor’s terrain parks, and he is suing Bachelor for $21.5 million, claiming the jump he went off was poorly designed and dangerous. His legal team is challenging the legality of the releases that hold Bachelor and other ski resorts harmless in Oregon, and the Oregon Supreme Court has decided to consider the case.
It remains to be seen whether a Oregon Supreme Court ruling that invalidates the ski pass release would open the door to new liability lawsuits against Oregon ski resorts, which would be about the last thing resorts such as Skibowl want or need. A few months after going to court over the death of a 17-year-old snowboarder, Skibowl is again pumping resources into fighting off a large lawsuit that raises unpleasant questions about culture and leadership.
What do you think about this lawsuit and the questions it raises about alcohol, risk and Mount Hood culture?