Two skiers injured in separate collisions with snowboarders have filed lawsuits against a Lake Tahoe, Nev. resort claiming it was part of a pattern of accidents caused by seasonal employees from abroad with little training and no insurance.
The latest lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court seeks $75,000 in damages from Broomfield, Colo.-based Vail Resorts Inc. and claims the company is liable for a Feb. 22 accident at its Heavenly Mountain Resort at South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Elisabeth “Elly” Benschop, 54, of Gardnerville was knocked unconscious and suffered a brain injury when a 20-year-old Argentinian woman who allegedly worked at Heavenly crashed into her on the Olympic ski run, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney J.D. Sullivan.
The lawsuit accuses the company of negligence resulting in brain injury, emotional distress and loss of consortium.
Officials for the resort company deny any responsibility. The young woman, Andrea Ramos, was on her day off skiing on personal time and did not actually work for Heavenly, they said.
Ramos is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Sullivan filed a similar lawsuit in December on behalf of another skier, Kimberly Bland of Florida, claiming she was injured in January 2011 when a Heavenly employee crashed into her while he was going down the Olympic slope on his snowboard.
The latest suit involves “another in a continuing pattern of skiing accidents at Heavenly, caused by Vail’s youthful foreign national employees” who are hired seasonably through a State Department visa program, the lawsuit states.
The workers are “offered low wages, free season ski passes, discounted food and merchandise, helmets and medical insurance, and thus lured by Vail to travel to the United States and work cheaply at defendants’ ski resorts,” it added.
However, they are not provided with liability insurance “so after they crash into other resort guests, seriously injuring them, and return to their home countries, the injured guests have no recourse against the foreign employee who caused the injuries,” the suit said.
In an email to Sullivan first reported Thursday by the (Gardnerville) Record-Courier, Vail Resorts Management Co. litigation counsel Marc A. Bonora said Ramos was not an employee of Vail or Heavenly.
“And she does not have an on-mountain position that would require her to be out riding a snowboard,” Bonora said. “Most significantly, the collision occurred on her day off. She was skiing on her own as a guest at Heavenly, just as your clients were.”
Sullivan said Benschop was diagnosed with a concussion as a result of the accident. He said she is being treated by a neurologist and fears her brain injury might be permanent.
Since Heavenly was Ramos’ employer, “in effect, Heavenly itself crashed into Elly,” the suit said. The resort failed to properly train its employees, the suit added.
Benschop’s husband, Calvin Fitzgerald, 67, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that Ramos kept apologizing after the accident.
He said he was heading down the mountain with his wife and had passed through gates that lead to the Olympic run when she was hit.
The gates included signs that warn skiers to stay in control, he said, and a Heavenly employee wearing a yellow jacket was slowing skiers down.
Fitzgerald, a retired Los Angeles Police Department detective, said he had just turned his head to see what happened.
“I looked at Elly. She wasn’t moving at all. I thought she was dead,” he said, his voice breaking.
Fitzgerald said he stopped the snowboarder, and saw she was wearing a Vail Resorts employee pass before the ski patrol arrived.
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