Man cleared in ski-wreck case
A jury decided Friday that a man was not skiing negligently when he and a 50-year-old collided on the slopes at Deer Valley.
Harbor Springs, Mich., resident Steven Erber sued 68-year-old Vincent Iatesta, of Annapolis, Md., after the men crashed on the intermediate Lost Boulder run Jan. 11, 2004.
"It’s important in the sense that it reiterates that people are assuming risk when they engage in these types of activities," Iatesta’s attorney, Ruth Shapiro, said in an interview after the trial. "It is unusual that these cases go to trial, or that even claims are presented, because it’s part of the sport and people understand that."
She maintained that Iatesta was likely the one who should have sued because Erber struck him from uphill, which she said violates Deer Valley’s skier responsibility code.
"[Iatesta] chose not to pursue legal action because this was an accident," said Shapiro. "Mr. Iatesta, as a lifelong skier, much like Mr. Erber, understood that there are inherent risks of the sport and sometimes collisions happen."
She doesn’t expect the verdict to be appealed.
"This was a fairly simple case and I don’t see any basis for appeal," Shapiro said.
But Erber may appeal the verdict because of what his side described as "objectionable" instructions Third District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck provided jurors, Erber’s attorney, Christian Hague, hinted in court Thursday.
Hague took issue with Lubeck’s explanation of the skier’s responsibility code to the panel.
"It’s a safety code," Hague argued.
Lubeck countered, "It’s not a law."
"It’s irrelevant. It means nothing to me," the judge continued.
Still, seven jurors, who all ski, decided Iatesta wasn’t responsible for the broken tibia and fibula Erber suffered to his lower leg in the crash, Shapiro said.
"Collisions are part of the sport of skiing and that’s basically the law as set forth by the court," she said, adding, "a lot of this is based on common sense."
Hague told jurors that because of Iatesta’s negligence Erber should be compensated for his medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income and "loss of life’s pleasures."
"For Steve, one of life’s pleasures was skiing," Hague said in his closing argument. "He can’t really ski again the way he would like to, because of the pain."
But no physicians have instructed Erber not to ski, Shapiro countered.
"If he chose to ski, there is no reason why he could not," she said.
Jurors rejected claims from Hague that two women who watched the collision from the Northside Express chairlift were the only unbiased witnesses in the case.
"They have nothing to gain but to be Good Samaritans and come in and testify," Hague said about witnesses Lori Gull and Pam Singer.
Gull changed her account of the accident between the Aug. 7 start of the trial and her deposition more than a year ago, Shapiro said.
She testified Monday that Iatesta "overtook" Erber as the plaintiff was skiing near trees on the right side of the run.
"[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.
"Every single witness has testified that Mr. Iatesta was skiing in control," Shapiro said.
Gull, who works at The Park Record, said initially that the crash was a "t-bone," Shapiro added.
Gull not knowing Erber at the time of the crash "does not equate to credibility," she said.
"Our position throughout this, and the evidence was consistent with the fact, that Mr. Erber hit Mr. Iatesta from above," Shapiro said. "Could we sue [Erber]? Probably, but it’s an accident."
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Court report: Week of June 22