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Man claims skier’s actions negligent

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A Harbor Springs, Mich., man wants a jury to award him thousands of dollars from another skier in a case stemming from a wreck he claims occurred on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort.

Steven Erber sued Vincent Iatesta, of Annapolis, Md., on Aug. 19, 2004, claiming the men collided while they were skiing on the Lost Boulder run at Deer Valley on Jan. 11, 2004.

Third District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck was scheduled Wednesday to resume a four-day trial that began Monday with Erber describing the injuries he said he suffered in the crash.

"It was a dumb, dull, sick feeling, much like I had gone through the first time I broke my leg," Erber testified.

But Iatesta’s attorney, Ruth Shapiro, may try to use his previous injury to weaken Erber’s case.

She insists that her client could not be blamed for injuries Erber sustained in the collision.

"Our position is that the accident was caused by Mr. Erber impacting Mr. Iatesta from behind," Shapiro said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "This is an inherent risk of the sport — collisions occur when you’re skiing and Mr. Erber should have been looking out a little bit better."

Tibia and fibula fractures Erber suffered skiing in 1999 — though similar to the more recent injuries did not require surgery to repair, Erber’s attorney, Christian Hague, countered.

The recent fractures were much worse, Erber said.

"It was like my leg had exploded," he said. "The bone fragments were laying all over the place & it was horrible."

Skiers at Deer Valley must remain in control at all times and yield to those in front of them, according to regulations at the resort.

Erber says he was making much tighter turns than Iatesta when he passed the man on Lost Boulder before they collided farther downhill.

"Their allegation is somehow Mr. Iatesta puts on the jets and hits [Erber] from behind," Shapiro said, adding that Iatesta is in his 60s.

Testifying for Erber’s side, Lori Gull, a witness to the crash, said Iatesta "overtook" the plaintiff as Erber was skiing near trees on the right side of the run.

Gull, who works for The Park Record, said she was watching Erber ski with her friend, Pam Singer, as the women rode up the Northside Express chairlift.

"[Erber] was skiing down what we would call a corridor," Gull said, adding that the plaintiff made a series of "s-turns." "Mr. Iatesta came across from the side and hit him."

She testified that neither skier lost control until they crashed.

"Mr. Erber was ahead of Mr. Iatesta and therefore Mr. Iatesta had the responsibility to avoid Mr. Erber," said Gull, who is a former Deer Valley employee. "I heard Mr. Iatesta say that Mr. Erber had hit him and that’s not what we saw."

Iatesta stood up after the skiers tumbled, she said, adding, "We saw [Erber] trying to stand up and his leg buckled & his leg went out sideways from the top of his ski boot."

"I felt that [Erber] was probably in shock because of his reaction," Gull said.

Shapiro suggested that diminished hearing and peripheral vision caused by a helmet Erber wore at the time of the crash is partially to blame.

"To see Mr. Iatesta, I would have had to have had eyes in the back of my head," Erber countered. "He wasn’t in my field of vision."

During cross-examination, Gull admitted Iatesta was skiing in control and within his ability, but he appeared distracted at times.

"When I was observing, it did appear like [Iatesta] was concentrating on the snow in front of his skis," Gull said. "You should be aware of all of your surroundings and what’s going on."

Neither man attempted to avoid the crash, she added.

He didn’t know what he had hit, Erber said, adding that he apologized to Iatesta after the men collided.

"[Iatesta] did not answer me," Erber said, insisting Iatesta caused the crash. "He did not avoid the person downhill from him, which was me."

Iatesta’s denial that he was skiing negligently creates a "credibility issue" for the defense, said Hague, who expects to finish his case on Thursday.

Expected to still testify in the trial are an eyewitness, Erber’s wife, Deer Valley employees and Sun Valley Ski Resort executive Peter Stearns.

"[Stearns] can talk about the duties owed between skiers and the impact of the skier’s responsibility code on those duties," Shapiro said.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Friday. To reach a verdict, six of the seven jury members must be convinced.

Meanwhile, Lubeck, in an unusual move, dismissed one of the original eight jurors following Gull’s testimony. Lubeck expressed concern that 80-year-old Ted Maedel could not adequately hear the proceedings.


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