Mono County Superior Court Judge Stan Eller threw out a civil case brought by Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis against Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles Inc. (KATV), and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) on Thursday, January 7.
Eller determined there was no gross negligence on the part of the defense. Willhide-Michiulis and her husband were suing for lifetime medical care.
Lawyers for the defense were high-fiving after the decision.
Willhide-Michiulis got caught in the tiller of a MMSA snowcat driven by Clifford Mann on March 25, 2011. She lost her leg, severely damaged the other leg, and suffered a brain injury in the accident.
The accident occurred toward the end of the ski day, 3:30 p.m. Willhide-Michiulis’ husband Bruno was retrieving their car while Kathleen was taking a final run for the day on Mambo. At the same time, Mann was moving his snowcat to fix a hole. She ran into the snowcat and got caught in the tiller.
Attorneys for Willhide-Michiulis had tried to get the case moved because of biases toward Mann which Eller ultimately dismissed. Mann has an annual race named after him, the Clifford Mann Classic at Mammoth Mountain, and is revered in the area.
There had also been discussions on the definition of “blind spot,” and testimony from numerous MMSA employees and eye-witnesses.
On Thursday, the Court said that, based on previous findings, skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous sports that include risks from snow making or snow grooming equipment. Because of these inherent risks, expert testimony was not needed.
“I don’t think that we have anything here that rises to the level of something so complex that it requires expert testimony,” said John Fagan, representing MMSA.
Eller explained his decision. He said he could not find evidence of gross negligence.
“Mr. Mann took an abundance of precautions. He operated that large, potentially dangerous snow cat in a manner which I felt—certainly when you look at the definition of gross negligence—there is no evidence that he lacked any care. There is no evidence that he exhibited an extreme departure from what a reasonable careful person would do in the same situation. I just didn’t see that.
“He [Mann] may not have given full attention to the route that was taken by Ms. Willhide-Michiulis. Or he may have, I don’t know. That’s a dispute. But that dispute doesn’t take you to gross negligence.”