MN Supreme Court reaches landmark sports injury liability decision

Julie Soderberg suffered severe injuries January 3d, 2016 while employed as a ski instructor for Spirit Mountain recreational area near Duluth. She was instructing a small child while descending 4-Pipe, a green run on which only slow skiing was permitted. At that same time, defendant snow-boarder entered 4-Pipe from an adjacent trail higher on the run from Ms. Soderberg's location.

As defendant cleared a hillock just above Ms. Soderberg's location, he performed a "blind 180" maneuver that temporarily prevented him from seeing down the run. At that same moment, Ms. Soderberg was sheparding her five-year-old student along that side of the run, facing down the run, near a large sign warning "slow skiing". She never saw defendant before being struck in the back by him. Ms. Soderberg sustained severe, disabling injuries and has not worked since.

Spirit Mountain's workers compensation insurer paid Ms. Soderberg's medical expenses along with a modest amount of wage loss. On Ms. Soderberg's behalf, we commenced legal action against the snowboarder August 2d, 2016. The St. Louis County trial judge dismissed the case in the Spring of 2017 shortly before trial was to begin, ruling she had assumed the risk of severe injury when she put her skis on that morning.

A year ago, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the St. Louis County trial judge, holding Ms. Soderberg had NOT assumed the risk of severe injury and ordering the parties to proceed with trial in Duluth. The Minnesota Supreme Court granted defendant's insurer's petition for further review. The ski areas trade associations to which Spirit Mountain belongs intervened in the appeal to argue AGAINST her recovery, even though Spirit Mountain's workers compensation insurer will get some money back from defendant's insurer if Ms. Soderberg prevails. On January 23d, 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Ms. Soderberg, that she did not assume the risk of serious injury that day.

Over three years after her injury, Ms. Soderberg will finally be given a trial date later this year.

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