Vail Resorts sued over fatal zip line accident

Vail Resorts sued over fatal zip line accident

Promotional photo for zipline tours at Stowe Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy/Stowe Mountain Resort

This article by Tommy Gardner first appeared in the Stowe Reporter on November 30, 2023

The family of a former Stowe Mountain Resort tour guide who was killed two years ago on the course is suing the resort and several equipment manufacturers.

Scott Lewis was killed on Sept. 23, 2021, when he was riding 3,500 feet from the resort’s ZipTour ride and his equipment malfunctioned, according to an investigation. He was 53 years old, and had been a zip-line guide in Stowe since the thrill ride opened in 2015.

Lewis’ ex-wife and executor of his estate, Molly Lewis, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Vail Resorts, Stowe’s parent company, along with four companies involved in building the zip-line — Terra-Nova, Zip Install, Petzl and Precisioneering. Last week, the case was moved to US District Court because the companies are headquartered in four different states.

The lawsuit, originally filed Sept. 22 in Vermont Superior Court in Hyde Park, alleges that Vail encouraged its employees to zipline to compete with each other to see who could achieve the fastest speed down the mountain, while intentionally deciding not to replace a piece of Equipment valued at $26. – A cloth rope – Investigators determined that this was the cause of the accident, despite the manufacturer’s recommendation that these ropes be replaced every year.

The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined, after an investigation, that the rope was four years old and was showing signs of wear after nearly three full seasons of heavy use. VOSHA fined the resort $27,000.

Since Lewis was an employee, that was the only fine imposed.

“He is now dead because Defendants created and furthered a recipe for disaster,” states the lawsuit filed by attorney Lisa Snow Wade, before laying out several factors in that alleged disaster:

“The zip line was unsafely steep; The zip line cart (the mechanical device that moves along the zip line cable and attaches to the rider’s belt) that failed to slow down Scott either due to a catastrophic failure or because it was not designed to handle the speeds achieved by the riders on that course but was sold to Stowe Mountain Resort anyway Knowing that it will be used in this path; A defectively designed and/or manufactured harness/rope assembly that disastrously ruptured at high speed, ejecting Scott at high speed into the base of the cable barrier several yards away; And an employer who encouraged his employees to participate in high-speed zip lines to promote himself to adventure seekers, all while intentionally failing to properly inspect and maintain the equipment he provided his employees with for use in zip lining to save money, knowing full well – well, its willful failures in the field of Workplace Safety Create a workplace hazard that, in VOSHA’s words, is “likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

This week, Phil filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the Lewis family is only entitled to worker’s compensation. The motion, filed by attorney Richie Berger, states it is “undisputed” that Lewis’ death occurred while he was on the job, and that the resort has been paying and will continue to pay his family — Lewis leaves behind three teenage sons as well as Molly Lewis, whom his obituary referred to as his “best friend.” “.

However, Berger said “work-related injuries” lead to Vermont’s exclusive law when it comes to workers’ compensation.

“The estate’s complaint does not allege facts that would prove that Stowe acted with specific intent to harm Mr. Lewis. “Rather, even when read broadly, the complaint asserts at most that Stowe was negligent in developing appropriate workplace policies, as well as “Rely on the other defendants for their expertise in designing and constructing the zip line and determining whether the equipment is safe,” a motion this week said. To dismiss states.

In addition to suing Phil for wrongful death, the Lewis family is suing four other companies involved in ziplining operations.

The lawsuit alleges negligence against Terra-Nova LLC, the Utah-based company that designed the course; Zip Install LLC, which installed the course; and Petzl America, which made ropes, carabiners and other equipment. Terra Nova is also charged with “strict liability.”

The lawsuit also alleges negligence against Precisioneering, the company responsible for conducting annual safety inspections of the zipline and equipment.

The companies, in their answers to the complaint, denied all of the allegations, with Petzel’s attorneys denying that the company manufactured any component used in the Stowe cycle and Precisioneering’s attorneys denying that it was hired to inspect any personal safety equipment.

The lawsuit also calls for punitive damages against Vail and Precisioneering, arguing that the companies’ actions “demonstrate a willful disregard for the rights and safety of Scott Lewis and other employees and members of the public who use the ZipTour zip.”

Dangerous work

According to court documents, Lewis was a zip line guide for seven years, before Phil purchased the resort’s operations. However, it is unclear whether any amount of experience could have prevented the equipment failure that caused his death.

VOSHA’s investigation found that the rope could have saved Lewis’ life if it had not snapped, but the lawsuit also alleges that his cart’s braking mechanism failed when it reached the end brake at the bottom of the zipline, causing an inertia effect that snapped . Ropes (the lawsuit refers to two ropes, not one).

The lawsuit alleges that the resort fostered a culture of competition among its tour guides, to see who could reach the fastest speeds on the course, “because it reinforced Vail’s image as providing more thrills to its clients, intentionally putting its employees at risk.” It also alleges that Vail invited Stowe police officers to use their radar detectors to record passengers.

Some employees, including Lewis, wore GPS trackers to record their top speeds. A VOSHA investigation revealed that Lewis’ tracking device recorded him at a top speed of 82 mph. However, the lawsuit claims that Lewis’ tracker showed him going faster on the first two legs of the ZipTour tripod — 112 mph in the first run and 99 mph in the second. He was traveling at 76 mph when he crashed.

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