On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, Docket No. L-0474-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A.A. Rodriguez and C.L. Miniman.
William Tucker Brownlee moved for leave to appeal from the August 31, 2010 interlocutory order denying his motion for summary judgment against plaintiffs, the Administrators of the Estate of Robert E. Angland and Nancy Angland, and Mountain Creek Resort, Inc. (Mountain Creek). We initially denied the motion. Angland v. Mountain Creek, et al., No. M-403-10 (App. Div. October 14, 2010). However, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal and summarily remanded to us to consider the merits on February 15, 2011.
These are the facts presented to the summary judgment judge. On Friday, January 19, 2007, shortly before noon, plaintiff's decedent, Robert Angland, suffered injuries resulting in his death while skiing at a ski area operated by defendant Mountain Creek. The facts are sharply disputed. However, all parties agree that just before the accident, defendant William Tucker Brownlee was snowboarding at Mountain Creek on the same slope as decedent. Brownlee and Angland made contact.
Besides these two points, the parties' versions of the facts diverge. According to Brownlee, as he was snowboarding on the far right side of the trail, an unidentified skier wearing a brown puffy jacket came from his left and cut directly in front of him. In order to avoid the unidentified skier, Brownlee turned quickly to his left. In doing so, Brownlee's snowboard and the decedent's skis became entangled.
The two men collided, fell, and slid downhill. Decedent ultimately impacted a concrete bridge headfirst. He died as a result. Brownlee stopped sliding. He stood up and went to Angland's assistance. The ski patrol arrived and took decedent for medical assistance. According to plaintiffs, there were almost no skiers on the trail at the time of the collision between Brownlee and decedent. Plaintiffs allege that Brownlee's "phantom skier" scenario is impeached by other evidence. Brownlee's version is that the phantom skier went in front of him and to his left. At Brownlee's deposition, he testified the phantom skier was at "eleven o'clock" to his position, and that the phantom skier cut to his right and decreased his speed. As a result, Brownlee cut to his left. Before Brownlee's snowboard went over one of decedent's skis and under the other, Brownlee acknowledged that he was out of control.
Immediately after the accident, Greg Pack, Vice President and Managing Director of Mountain Creek, skied over to Brownlee, who was approximately fifteen feet from Angland and the bridge. According to Pack, less than one minute after the accident, Brownlee stated that he was cut-off and involved in a collision. Within thirty minutes of the accident, Brownlee told his close high school friend, Keith Eilerstan, who accompanied him to Mountain Creek that day, that a lady fell in front of him, and as a result, he steered off to his right and collided with decedent. Brownlee also gave a written statement to Mountain Creek's ski patrol and spoke to the Vernon Police Department on the day of the accident.
In not one of Brownlee's statements to Pack, Eilerstan, Mountain Creek's ski patrol or the Vernon police on the day of the accident did he identify the phantom skier by way of age, sex or clothing.
In a written statement, and in certified answers to interrogatories provided months later, Brownlee indicated that decedent fell and slid down the hill after the collision. Yet, he testified at his deposition soon after that he did not see decedent fall or slide.
Plaintiffs also note that Mountain Creek's accident reconstruction expert has prepared a report stating that the collision between Brownlee and Angland most likely occurred approximately one hundred feet from the bridge. It is also likely that Angland's multiple facial fractures were caused by the collision between the two men, as opposed to by contact with the bridge.
Plaintiffs' liability expert, Irving S. Scher, Ph.D., a Biomechanical Engineer, has opined that Brownlee violated the standard of care set by N.J.S.A. 5:13-1 to -11 (Ski Act), the New Jersey statute that defines the duties involved in skiing. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 5:13-4 provides the duties of a skier. According to the report, the deviation from the statutory standard occurred when Brownlee failed to keep a proper lookout, made a panic stop, and turned to his left in front of decedent.
Plaintiffs sued Mountain Creek and Brownlee. After a period of discovery, Mountain Creek and Brownlee moved for summary judgment. Judge William J. McGovern, III, denied Brownlee's motion for summary judgment, and granted Mountain Creek's motion. In a written opinion, dated August 31, 2010, the judge concluded that, in viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Brownlee, as required by Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520 (1995), Mountain Creek was entitled to summary judgment on the issue of the Ski Act providing a standard of care. The judge acknowledged that the purpose of the Ski Act was announced by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 5:13-1(b). This section of the Ski Act provides that "the purpose of this law is to make explicit a policy of this State which clearly defines the responsibility of ...