Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc. – Negligent Maintenance of Property

Property owners have a duty to take reasonable steps to make sure their property is safe. That includes addressing slippery conditions, longstanding walkway defects or security issues. This is especially true for property owners who host risky and potentially dangerous activities on site, regardless of whether participants sign waivers. courthouse

That said, plaintiffs still have a heavy proof burden in showing a causal link between a property owner’s negligent maintenance of property and alleged injuries.

This was seen in the recent case of Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc., recently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

According to court records, plaintiff was injured while skiing at a resort in Vermont with his daughter. The two were skiing down one trail, which intersected with another. However, when his daughter reached the end, she realized her father hadn’t followed her down. A worker for the resort would later find plaintiff in great pain, lying on his back near a tree.

Worker described plaintiff as “combative,” but indicated he could not recall the incident that caused him injury. Plaintiff’s daughter, however, took note of a jump near the trees right by the intersection. This led plaintiff to opine another patron flew off that jump and collided with him, rendering him unconscious and suffering from a concussion, fractures to several of his left ribs and his left arm.

He filed a lawsuit to recover damages, asserting the resort allowed dangerous jumps on its trails and he was injured as a consequence of that.

But there were several problems with his filing, beginning with the fact that it was done pro se, meaning without a lawyer. While negligence may seem a fairly simple thing to prove, the reality is it is not. Premises liability law in particular is filled with nuance and it can vary greatly from state-to-state and even from one property to the next. (For example, what is considered “negligent security” in one location may not necessarily be considered negligent in the next.) An experienced personal injury lawyer can help clients navigate these issues, and advise on the best legal strategies given the unique circumstances of the case.

Those who fear the cost of hiring an attorney should know many cases can be accepted on a contingency fee basis, meaning if a lawyer accepts your case, the law firm covers all costs upfront and there are no attorneys fees unless you win.

Beyond plaintiff’s failure to hire an attorney, he failed to produce sufficient evidence to indicate the cause of his injury. He needed to show more probably than not that defendant’s negligence was the cause of his injury. The fact that neither he nor anyone else saw another skier collide with him and he produced little in the way of circumstantial evidence to prove that’s what happened.

And even if he was able to do that, he failed to provide any expert witness testimony that could prove that a lack of maintenance of this nature would result in this type of accident with any sort of frequency. While expert witness testimony isn’t required in every injury case, it is generally required to support a finding of causation where the link may be obscure and a layperson with no well-founded knowledge could only speculate.

Although south Florida doesn’t have any ski resorts to boast of, there are many activities for which property owners may owe a duty of care to patrons. Success in these cases starts with consultation with a lawyer who has experience in this area of law.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc., Nov. 30, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Roma v. Moreira – Duty of Landlord to Prevent Tenant Injuries, Nov. 24, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Premises Liability Attorney Blog