Alert for Skiers in Maine: Chairlifts May be Unsafe

A manufacturer of chairlifts used in ski resorts in Maine has issued a warning to resorts across the country to check the devices for defects.

Company engineers have conceded there is an inherent design flaw that likely contributed to the recent Portland ski injuries suffered by seven people in a single accident after they fell some 30 feet to the ground.

The accident speaks to the aging infrastructure of the ski resort industry in New England, and the dangers visitors may face.

The Associated Press reports the New York-based firm Partek Ski Lifts is advising any lodges that currently use its lifts, or those made by Borvig, to conduct thorough safety checks, and also to carefully watch for issues related to an electrical switch. It’s believed a malfunction with that component may have been to blame for the accident that resulted in injuries on Sugarloaf Mountain.

There are an estimated 3,500 ski lifts in operation throughout the U.S. Of those, it’s believed about 170 could be effected by this design flaw.

Injuries stemming from this defect could result in litigation focusing on defective design or premises liability. All businesses have a duty to ensure their site is reasonably safe for customers. Although skiing is generally considered an inherently risky activity, skiers don’t generally assume the risk of a faulty chairlift, especially if the ski resort knew about the problem or should have known about it and failed to take steps to correct the problem or warn guests.

That the manufacturer has come out in front of the issue and warned of safety concerns is a positive, though it will not necessarily release the firm from liability in the event injuries result from this issue. As of right now, there hasn’t been a formal recall issued and no chairlifts were removed from service.

Engineers for the manufacturer suggest the firm used the wrong kind of electrical switch on the device, and this caused the system not to lock the chair in place – as it should have – when the device started moving backward in the air with several people on board. The chair itself is 27 years-old.

Sugarloaf is Maine’s tallest ski mountain, and this was the second accident to occur there in the last five years. The other ski accident, which happened in 2010, involved a 25-year-old chairlift.

Here, it appears there was a broken drive shaft in a gear box that resulted in the malfunction of the lift’s main brake system, which should have been automatically activated. The quad moved some 400 feet in reverse before the emergency brake was deployed and finally brought the lift to a halt.

The accidents is still being investigated by manufacturers, the resort, state inspectors and other industry officials. The resort chose to pull that particular lift offline, and it’s replaced the component in question on all its other lifts.

Although this chairlift was made by another firm, Borvig, that company has been out of business for years and Partek took on parts and support for its existing lifts back in the 1990s. The agreement also likely means Partek assumed liability for those lifts as well.

While there has not been a death associated with mechanical malfunction of a ski chairlift since 1993, there have been numerous incidents resulting in injury. This latest Maine ski accident resulted in injuries ranging from mild to severe.

If you are the victim of a ski accident, contact  Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Ski lift firm issues safety warning after Sugarloaf accident, March 27, 2015, By David Sharp, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

Bangor Skiing Accident Leads to Death, Jan. 17, 2012, Portland Injury Lawyer Blog

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