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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Ski Lift was being Shut Down Moments Before a Cable Failed

5 comments

Many ski resorts are announcing increased safety inspections and maintenance following a ski lift accident at the Sugarloaf resort in Maine. Eight people were taken to the hospital after a double-chair-lift derailed and fell 30 feet. Over two hundred skiers were on the lift when five chairs came crashing down causing eight injuries. Fortunately no one suffered serious or life-threatening injuries; many believe that is because the area was not groomed because of a recent snowstorm dumping nearly two-feet of fresh snow in the area. This made the snow soft when the skiers came crashing down.

According to the initial investigation, high wind appears to be the primary cause of the lift failure. Wind that day had been gusting up to forty miles per hour and the lift had been put on a “wind hold” earlier in the morning. High wind is nothing new for New England skiers and “wind holds” are common. Later reports stated that approximately thirty minutes after the “wind hold” was lifted maintenance workers were dispatched to the lift to assess a cable that was out of alignment. Adjustments were made, and the lift was stopped and started several times in attempt to realign the cable before the mechanics decided to shut down the lift altogether. They had restarted the lift at a slow speed to allow skiers to disembark when the cable jumped out of wheels holding it in place.

An October inspection uncovered three problems with the ski lift – a guard needed to be placed over a drive shaft, it was recommended that trees and brush to be cut under the chair’s top section, and it was noted that some of the numbers on the lift towers were missing or not visible. The first two problems were fixed and Sugarloaf said they would put numbers on the towers once they were painted before ski season got under way. These problems were considered routine maintenance issues and not out of the ordinary. The lift passed inspection, in lieu of that fact that is was thirty-five years old and vulnerable to wind.

The question here is – if inspectors knew this lift could be dangerous, why wasn’t it permanently shut down until replaced? Why was it is being used on a day where the winds were obviously high? It is unclear whether wind or another cause pushed the cable out of place. The Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety is continuing to investigate the accident. Until the investigation is concluded, the ski lift will be closed.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida,

5 Comments

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  1. John Brady says:
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    With regard to the questions raised about safety and the suggestion that it should have been shut down until replaced, it should be noted that this lift has operated for 35 years without an incident. Being a fixed grip chair, it is a relative simple and historically safe design. We are all safety experts in hindsight!

  2. Rick Brockway says:
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    You say the reports showed three routine maintenance problems which were fixed. Then you ask why the inspectors didn’t close down the lift permanently,if they knew it was dangerous. I don’t get it. Did you leave something out or is this just Trial Attorneyspeak?

  3. Mark Bello says:
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    Rick: According to the reports I read, in October, the lift underwent an inspection and 3 problems were found. It was also noted that the lift was old and would be replaced in the summer, one of the reasons noted was its vulnerability to high winds.

    The day of the accident, it was very windy, the lift was not started right away. Eventually, they determined that the winds had subsided enough to start the lift; apparently the winds were still to high. A problem occurrerd sending maintenance to the lift. When it could not be fixed to the satisfaction of the maintenance crew, they slowly started the lift to bring everyone down. That is when the cable broke.

    The point about the more minor problems in an old lift like this one was that those minor problems could have or should have served as a “warning” that further inspection for more serious problems was warranted. The lift was already marked for summer replacement because it was old and there were concerns about its susceptibility to failing in high winds. Hopefully, this clarifies the issue for you. Thanks for writing.

  4. Mark Bello says:
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    John: You are correct; 20-20 hindsight is easy. That is not the point of this post. The point here is that it is not just “hindsight” at play here. In this case, the resort acknowledged the lift was “old”, fixed three minor issues, determined the lift needed to be replaced, determined that it was susceptible to failure in high winds, then put it in service anyway (hoping to squeeze one last season out of it?). Did that decision place customers in unreasonable danger? That is for the investigators and, perhaps, a judge or jury to decide. It is certainly appropriate to call their judgment into question and alert the public about these potential dangers, isn’t it?

  5. Christy says:
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    Points well taken. Much could still depend on what caused the accident, and what precautions the resort did or didn’t take beforehand. I had the same question, Mark. Were they trying to squeeze in one more season out of it? Was that for profit? They have plenty of other lifts on the property.The fortunate thing is that no one was seriously injured or died. Although there were some injuries, it sounds like it could have been much worse if the maintenance crew had not already been on the scene and Sugarloaf personnel not responded so quickly. What further investigations hopefully will uncover is why the chair lift failed in the first place, and although the resort says proper inspections were done, could there still be something that should have been dealt with and wasn’t? If strong winds are found to be an important factor in the accident, liability could depend on how much wind the lift was built to withstand and what the industry standards are for operating in windy conditions. I think right now it is unclear if the accident will lead to any lawsuits, but Maine law says skiers cannot sue for damage related to “the inherent dangers and risks” of skiing. It does however, allow for lawsuits related to to negligence – including design, construction, operation, or maintenance of a passenger tramway.