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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

California court denies appeal of snowboarder whose leg was amputated after striking snowcat


By John Sammon | Jul 24, 2018


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – The Court of Appeals for the State of California 3rd District on June 27 denied the appeal of a woman who sued the ski run where she was severely injured in a snowboarding accident.

Plaintiff Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis on her last snowboard run of the day collided with a snowcat machine pulling a tiller plowing snow on March 25, 2011, at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the opinion states. The accident resulted in the amputation of the woman’s left leg, several skull fractures and facial lacerations.

“We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion,” the appeals court brief read. “Additionally the plaintiffs cannot show Mammoth was grossly negligent and fell outside the liability waiver Willhide-Michiulis signed as part of her season pass agreement.”

In addition, the Appeals Court found the trial court had not abused its discretion in denying a change of venue from Mono County to Los Angeles County.

“This is because without first showing their case is active and trial is pending, plaintiffs cannot show a miscarriage of justice resulting from the denial of their venue motions,” the Appeals Court stated. “There is no trial to be had.”

Willhide-Michiulis and her husband Bruno sued the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area LLC, a ski resort located in the Inyo National Forest, alleging the snowcat had been operated in a negligent manner. However, a trial court found the snowcat operation on a snow run open to the public was an inherent risk of snowboarding and did not constitute gross negligence.

In addition, the trial court found the plaintiff assumed risk based on the liability waiver which was part of a season-pass agreement she had signed.

The plaintiffs originally filed suit against Mammoth Mountain and Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles, the maker of the snowcat machine, in Los Angeles County. Venue was later transferred to Mono County where the trial court dismissed multiple causes of action against Mammoth Mountain. The trial court denied a motion to move the case back to Los Angeles County made by the plaintiffs who contended it was more convenient and they could not receive a fair trial in Mono County.

Two counts remained, alleged gross negligence by the ski resort and loss of consortium.

Lawyers for Mammoth Mountain moved for a summary judgment, which was granted by the Mono County Superior Court.

The plaintiffs appealed arguing the Mono court improperly granted the summary judgment and abused its discretion by excluding witness testimony for the plaintiffs that claimed the driver of the snowcat failed to properly signal a turn.

The Appeals Court affirmed the trial court decision.          

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