Ski resort mounts a defense in wrongful death case | ParkRecord.com

Ski resort mounts a defense in wrongful death case

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

The Canyons is fighting a lawsuit filed against the resort by the wife of a man who died when he skied into a tree.

Jason Coles, 36, was skiing at The Canyons with a friend when the men became separated from each other Dec. 17, 2007. Ski patrollers searched for Coles when he missed a scheduled meeting with his friend on the hill.

His body was located by a patroller at about 4:15 p.m. Coles was skiing near the intersection of the Lower Crowning Glory and Showcase trails at the time of the crash, according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed against The Canyons.

Coles’ widow, Laurie Seal-Coles, of New York, filed the 8-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. Seal-Coles claims The Canyons was grossly negligent in not using signs, roping and fencing to protect her late husband from hazards on the slopes.

"Lower Crowning Glory and the Showcase trail merge on a sharp turn. The merging trails and hazardous turn were not marked in any way with warning signs or roping," the complaint states.

A sharp drop-off at the intersection was also not marked with "signs, roping or fencing," according to the complaint.

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"Warning signs alert skiers to hazardous situations, such as merging trails and sharp drop-offs," the document states.

Coles’ body was found near a tree, according to the lawsuit.

"[The Canyons] should have known that failing to warn, rope, and fence off the hazardous situations could result in injury to its skiers," the complaint states.

Seal-Coles claims resort officials were notified of the hazards by "prior statements made by other skiers to ski patrol management."

The Canyons denies that claim.

"We adamantly disagree with their position," said Kevin Simon, a Park City attorney representing The Canyons in the case.

The Utah Inherent Risk of Skiing Act bars Seal-Coles from making her claims, according to Simon.

The Canyons "owed no duty to protect" Coles from the obstacles, according to a 14-page response Simon filed with the court on April 23.

"Basically, [Coles] skied off the trail somehow and hit a tree," Simon said in a telephone interview. "It’s quintessential inherent risk of skiing I think you would wholeheartedly agree with me if you were to see it, and anyone else being reasonable would agree."

But Seal-Coles is seeking punitive damages from the resort because Canyons officials engaged in "willful and malicious conduct and/or knowing reckless disregard for [Coles’] safety and welfare," the complaint states.

Simon disagrees, claiming The Canyons did not act maliciously.

Further, Simon hopes the court requires Seal-Coles to pay the costs for The Canyons’ defense because her claims against the ski area were "not brought in good faith."

Coles was reportedly living on the West Side of Summit County at the time of his death.

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