Approximately 25 people fell 30 feet from a ski lift in West Virginia when the lift suddenly derailed. More than 100 were stranded on the lift for 2 hours before they were finally rescued. Two people were injured during the accident.
Though the cause is still under investigation, the Timberline Resort officials say the derailment was likely a mechanical failure with the triple chairlift that dropped the cables. Those who did fall were lucky the derailment occurred near the bottom of the hill given that if they had fallen just a bit further up, they would have dropped 60 feet and would certainly have received more injuries.
One fall victim reported that he heard a snap when the cross bar broke off, causing he and his children to fall. He reports feeling fortunate the bar did not land on him or either of his children. Many of the fall victims report being terrified, however, are thankful emergency response teams acted fast.
Just last March, seven victims were injured at another mountain resort. According to news reports, the chair lift halted before sliding backwards down the mountain. Investigations showed the lift’s gearbox malfunctioned, which shut down the brake systems. Just a few years prior to this incident, eight skiers sustained injuries when a strong wind caused a lift derailment, sending five of its chairs falling 30 feet below. It’s possible given the repetitive nature of the lifts, the amount of people using the lifts and the exposure to harsh winter weather just wear the ski lifts down.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, design defects in the lifts may finally catch up with the technology available to make these lifts safer. However, these experts also say if the older lifts are simply properly maintained, they should be safe to ride. Ski industry generally places no standards that regulate when lifts should be replaced.
A representative from Timberline Ski Resort said all of their lifts undergo thorough inspections and comply with all safety standards, which includes federal guidelines for mechanical inspections. The company also says it complies with the safety requirements from its insurance provider and performs daily, monthly and annual inspections of the lifts.
If this is the case, Timberline should be doing more. Given that the ski lifts are subjected to harsh weather and repetitive use, perhaps the company should err on the safe side and begin replacing the parts before another accident occurs.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, L.L.P. is a personal injury law firm that fights for victims who have been injured due to defective products in Washington, Virginia and Maryland.