Attorneys for the family of a Steamboat Springs ski racer killed in a collision with a snowmobile at Vail last winter filed a lawsuit Friday in Eagle County.
The suit, filed in the 5th Judicial District Court, alleges negligence on the part of Vail Associates Inc. and the employee driving the snowmobile. It seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages. The suit also asks that no limits be placed on a jury award.
"This case needs to go forward," attorney Bill Gray said. "We intend to pursue it with the utmost vigor."
Ashley Stamp, a star Alpine ski racer with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sport Club, died Dec. 19 while practicing for a race on the Gold Peak racecourse at the Vail ski area. She suffered fatal injuries in a collision with a snowmobile operated by a member of Vail's race crew, 27-year-old Mark Chard. Ashley was 13.
After a criminal investigation, 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert decided in April not to file charges against Chard.
Gray, the attorney for Ash--ley's parents, Aaron and Kelly Stamp, said the suit alleges that Vail Associates failed to adequately test, train and supervise its employees. It further alleges that the way in which they were operating snowmobiles near the racecourse on the day of the accident failed to meet the requirements of Colorado's Skier Safety Act.
"Any violation of statute establishes negligence as a matter of law," Gray said.
Gray is with the Boulder firm Purvis, Gray and Murphy. Steamboat Springs attorney John Vanderbloemen of Lettunich and Vanderbloemen is a co-counsel in the case, Gray said.
Hurlbert decided not to charge Chard with a crime based on the results of an investigation by the Colorado State Patrol. However, Gray said, the district attorney's decision does not rule out a finding of negligence in the civil arena.
"The D.A. chose not to file criminal charges," Gray said. "That does not preclude the Stamps from seeking damages for the death of their child."
Rick DeVos, executive director of the Winter Sports Club, said he hopes the lawsuit serves to bring some closure to Ashley's family, but he knows it won't necessarily make things better.
"This is a real loss for everybody," DeVos said. "It's never going to be over. We continue to do our jobs, but we will remember Ashley always."
The suit makes four separate claims.
The first simply states that at the time he collided with Ashley, Chard was operating the snowmobile in a "negligent, reckless, wanton and willful manner." It goes on to allege that negligent conduct was a direct cause of Ashley's death.
The second claim finds fault with the way in which Vail Associates trained, supervised and monitored its employees. It alleges that Vail Associates had knowledge that its employees, including Chard, operated snowmobiles in a negligent fashion and failed to take steps to "stop the wrongful and hazardous operation of its snowmobiles" that might have prevented Ashley's death.
The third claim lays out specific ways in which the plaintiffs think Vail Associates failed to meet the requirements of the Skier Safety Act. Hurlbert noted that the criminal investigation found that Chard's snowmobile had a warning flag. However, the suit implies that the size of the flag and the way it was attached to the snowmobile didn't meet the requirements of the law.
"We believe we can prove that at the time of the collision," the warning flag attached to the snowmobile that caused Ashley's fatal injuries did not satisfy the Skier Safety Act, Gray said. The law requires that the fluorescent flag be at least 40 square inches in size and be mounted at least 6 feet above the bottom of the snowmobile's tracks.
The third claim also alleges that at the time of the collision, Vail Associates had not placed a conspicuous notice near the top of the Golden Peak trail to alert skiers that snowmobiles would be operating on the trail.
Finally, the suit asks the court to acknowledge that, had the case been prosecuted successfully as a criminal matter, the circumstances leading to Ashley's death would have amounted to a "felonious killing," Gray said. In such a civil case, he added, there are no statutory limits on damages.
The suit alleges that Chard recklessly caused Ashley's death by conduct "which constituted a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustified risk of death."
"It is our contention that the conditions that led to Ashley's death were sufficiently grave that they constitute a felonious taking of life," Gray said.
Gray said many hurdles remain before the case can go to trial.
If it goes to trial, Gray predicted it could last three or four weeks. He made the prediction based on the numerous witnesses to the accident who could be called to testify.
A spokeswoman for Vail said she was aware of the suit, but she declined to comment.
"It is our longstanding practice not to discuss or comment on pending litigation," Vail's Kelly Ladyga said.
Gray said Ashley's parents would have no comment on the suit at this time.
DeVos said he hopes the suit leads to improved safety practices for all skiers.
"The most positive thing that could come from this is if some policies are adopted nationally to improve the safe operation of equipment with guests on hills," he said.
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