United States Dismissed from Federal Tort Claims Act Lawsuit
Spokane – Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that, United States District Judge Salvador Mendoza, Jr. dismissed all claims against the United States related to an injury of a snowboarder at 49 Degrees North ski area. The Court issued a principled and well-reasoned written Order supporting the dismissal.
According to information disclosed during the court proceedings, James O’Neel was snowboarding at 49 Degrees North in January of 2013 when he sustained a severe spinal injury jumping off a ski jump in the ski area’s terrain park, resulting in quadriplegia. He subsequently sued both 49 Degrees North and the United States, because the U.S. Forest Service manages the land on which the ski area operates and it had issued a special use permit allowing 49 Degrees North to operate the ski area on the Colville National Forest. Mr. O’Neel sought damages in excess of $30 million.
Records produced during the proceedings showed that the Forest Service’s role was limited to issuing a special use permit and in doing so, had placed almost all responsibility for safety of the public on 49 Degrees North, which was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the ski area. Judge Mendoza also found that dismissal of the United States was appropriate because it was the ski area, not employees of the Forest Service, that was responsible for construction and maintenance of the ski jumps. While the United States has been dismissed from the lawsuit, 49 Degrees North remains in the lawsuit. Judge Mendoza made no ruling with regard to liability on the part of the ski area.
This case was handled by Timothy M. Durkin and Rudy J. Verschoor, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington on behalf of the United States.