As an avid skier, I was distraught to read about another terrible chairlift malfunction at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. The chairlift suddenly started moving swiftly backward. Seven skiers were pretty seriously injured, some of them because they removed their skis and jumped to “safety” from the chairlift, fearing that they would be more severely hurt if they wound up getting spun through the chair housing unit at the bottom. More than 200 people were later evacuated from the chairlift over a 90-minute period.
This isn’t the first time a chairlift malfunctioned at Sugarloaf. In December of 2010, a chairlift cable derailed, dropping 5 chairs violently to the ground. Five adults and three kids were injured in that accident. That time Sugarloaf was at fault for negligent operation of the lift. Sugarloaf paid out-of-court settlements to the victims.
This time the manufacturer of the chairlift – Partek Ski Lifts — is to blame. Engineers believe a design flaw prevented a safety system from locking the chairlift in place after a mechanical failure caused it to begin moving in reverse.
Do you smell a lawsuit brewing? You betcha. The manufacturer will get sued on a “product liability” theory of liability. In a “product liability” suit, the plaintiff does not even have to prove the manufacturer was “negligent” or “careless”, but only that the product – in this case the chairlift – was unreasonable dangerous. In this case it seems pretty clear that it was.
Product liability lawsuits – like the one that will surely be brought here – are good for all of us. There is no better “engine” for safety than a tort lawsuit. Think government regulations alone can make us safe? Chairlifts are a good example of how they cannot. The state agency charged with inspecting Maine’s chairlifts is the same overburdened agency charged with inspecting all of the State’s elevators: Maine’s Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety. The agency is not sufficiently funded to conduct regular and vigorous inspections, and the fines it opposes amount to a mere slap on the wrist. It is — like many such agencies — a paper, toothless tiger. The real tiger – the one with sharp teeth — the thousand pound gorilla that puts fear into corporate boardrooms all over America — is the products liability lawsuit.
So bring on the lawsuit. For the victims and for all of us.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Dangerous Products Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.