Ski season eventually has to come to an end each year, but Jim Chalat (Chalat Hatten & Banker PC) is busy year-round. In the 2006 edition of Colorado Super Lawyers Magazine, the man behind skilaw.com took us through the ups and downs of his nationally recognized winter sports personal injury practice.
Some of the toughest cases for Chalat are the skier-to-skier and snowboarder-to-skier collisions. The out-of-control skier who caused the injury sometimes cannot be found, and if he (and it’s usually a he) is found, the penalties are sometimes trivial.
One of the most famous reckless skier cases involved an off-duty Vail employee, Nathan Hall. In the spring of 1997, the 18-year-old ski lift operator was leaving work, taking the last run of the last day of the season and reportedly bombing straight down the mountain, even though other people on the trail were shouting at him to slow down. A mogul toward the bottom of the slope sent Hall airborne and crashing into Alan Cobb, 33, who had the bad luck to ski across Hall’s path. Hall’s ski fractured Cobb’s skull and caused a massive brain injury. Cobb died just hours later. Hall was sentenced to just 90 days for being criminally negligent. The modest sentence was nevertheless the first criminal conviction handed down by a jury in a Colorado ski accident. Chalat was amicus curiae for the people in that case when it went before the state Supreme Court.
But Hall’s landmark sentence hasn’t seemed to slow down irresponsible skiers. In 2003, Robert Wills was visiting Breckenridge from his native Britain and reportedly skiing at high speed when he caused the collision that killed Richard Henrichs. Chalat represented his widow, Sandra Henrichs, who filed a wrongful death suit. Chalat won what he calls a “substantial settlement” out of court.
Lift tickets held the key to his client’s case. Chalat subpoenaed the computer records of when and for which lifts Wills’ bar-coded lift tickets had been scanned. “We determined that they got on the lift almost simultaneously.” The defendant’s companion testified that they had spent about 10 minutes having coffee at the top of the lift. “How did Wills catch up?” Chalat asks rhetorically. “We determined that he was going very fast [when he hit Henrichs].”