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Lawsuits filed over Excalibur gondola accident

British family and friend seek damages for psychological and soft tissue injuries



Skiers accept there are risks that come with the sport but they don't, for the most part, expect their gondola to fail, said Whistler lawyer Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

That's one of the reasons she has taken on a case against Whistler Blackcomb's parent company, Intrawest, for a British family and their friend who were involved in the Excalibur Gondola accident last December.

The seven individual lawsuits, from the Hargrave family and their friend, claim Blackcomb Mountain and lift manufacturer Doppelmayr were negligent in the installation and maintenance of Excalibur's Tower 4.

"Absolutely, you accept the risk of injury when you're skiing," said Wilhelm-Morden, "but I don't think most people accept the risk of a gondola falling off a lift.

"We have pled failure to adequately maintain the lifts in our pleadings."

In particular, the lawsuit states that Blackcomb Mountain failed to properly inspect Tower 4 when it knew, or ought to have known, it was subject to ice jacking - water seeping into the tower, turning to ice and rupturing the tower at the point where two sections joined.

The lawsuits were filed in the B.C. Supreme Court last week, almost 10 months after the accident.

In December 2008 the Hargrave family and their friend Daryl Diggons were visiting Whistler. An avid ski family, the Hargraves travelled to Whistler two to three times a season.

On Dec. 16 the four Hargrave siblings - Brad, Chris, Jessica and Rebecca - and Diggons were on the Excalibur Gondola when the lift failed and their cabin bounced up and down, landing on a bus shelter. They were trapped there for about an hour.

"(The gondola) bounced up and down really quite drastically and then smashed into the roof of the bus shelter where it came to rest," said Wilhelm-Morden. "It was quite a precarious lean because it was half off the roof and they didn't know if they were still attached to the cable so they were worried that the thing was going to roll off and fall to the ground."

Their parents, David and Mandy, rushed to the scene and looked on as rescue crews attempted to get their family to safety.

The lawsuits claim that some of the defendants sustained psychological injuries, soft tissue injuries, nightmares and anxiety and seek damages for their injuries.

While soft tissue and psychological injuries may not be as obvious as broken bones, said Wilhelm-Morden, they can be traumatizing.

"People can sustain debilitating psychological injuries that affect them forever," she said.

Whistler Blackcomb said its policy is not to provide comment on pending litigation but it released this statement.

"Whistler Blackcomb would like to once again express its sincere concern and sympathy to those who were involved in the Excalibur Gondola tower incident on December 16, 2008. The incident was very serious and we are thankful that the injuries for the most part were not more serious. We want to see any claims arising from this incident resolved fairly and expeditiously."

Wilhelm-Morden admitted other people involved in the accident have been in touch with her.

Fifty-three people were evacuated from the lift that day and 12 were treated at the Whistler medical centre.

There is precedence for the case, said Wilhelm-Morden, pointing to the tragic Quicksilver accident in December 1995 where two people died and several were injured.

Lawsuits were filed in the aftermath of that accident with bodily injury claims valued at $8.5 million.

Whistler Blackcomb's statement last week also said: "Immediately after the (Excalibur) incident Whistler Blackcomb, together with all Intrawest resorts, completed a comprehensive safety inspection of the company's entire lift network and has confirmed this was in fact an isolated incident. These safety inspections followed the guidelines set forth in the Safety Bulletin issued worldwide by the lift manufacturer after the incident."