During the cold and snowy winter months, millions of people across the country flock to the great outdoors to participate in various recreational activities such as ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. These activities can be great fun, but unfortunately accidents happen each year. One such accident occurred two years ago in February of 2014, in Montana.
The accident resulted in a personal injury lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court in Missoula, Montana. A New York state legislator, Aravella Simotas was on vacation with her husband, John Katsanos, and booked a snowmobile tour through Whitefish Mountain Resort. The tour company was J&L Snowmobile Rentals. The couple states in the lawsuit that it was foggy out during the tour and claim the weather made navigating the trail difficult. Simotas was injured after she wasn’t able to make a sharp turn. She veered off the trail and hit a tree. Simotas claims the helmet she was wearing, which came off during the crash, didn’t have a chin guard and was made for a child. The injuries Simotas reported were: “head trauma, multiple bone fractures, severe pain and mental anguish, surgery, loss of enjoyment of life and other severe and permanent injuries. ” Before she was airlifted to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, the article states her husband had to “drain blood out of her mouth and help responding emergency workers use an aspirator to keep Simotas alive.”
The suit states that both the Whitefish Mountain Resort and J&L Snowmobile Rentals “knew or should have known that the guided snowmobile tour in which plaintiffs participated posed serious hazards not only due to steep terrain, sharp curves and shared trails with skiers and snowboarders, but also because the tour would be hazardous that day, given the adverse weather condition of heavy fog which obscured the snowmobile trail and other potential hazards.” Both the resort and J&L have denied liability for the injuries.
Generally, when bringing a lawsuit for negligence a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of that breach, and that the injuries were caused b the defendant’s actions. So here, if Simotas is seeking to recover under a negligence theory, she would need to prove that the resort and snowmobile company owed her a duty of care, that they failed in that duty and that the breach caused her to suffer substantial injuries such as head trauma and broken bones.
Premises liability is another theory under which Simotas may seek recovery. If a person is injured on another person’s property because the owner of the property failed in their duty to properly maintain their property, then the person injured may seek recovery. The amount of liability an owner is subject to traditionally depends on the status of the visitor coming on to the property. Visitors are classified into three categories: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. Invitees are owed the greatest duty of care while trespassers are owed the least. In this case, Simotas would likely be classified as an invitee, as she was on the premises for business purposes. If she follows this theory of liability, she would need to show her injuries were due to the a defective condition of the trail she was on.
Cases like this remind us that it is important to keep safety in mind when participating in winter activities, such as snowmobiling, as failure to do so can result in significant injuries and legal liability.