Skiers look for insurance

Some Vail Valley skiers seeking protection

After her 9-year-old son was sued, Eagle-Vail mom touts benefits of insurance

Reporter Steve Lynn

EAGLE COUNTY — Susan Swimm’s family would have had to pay $25,000 if she had not had insurance when her 9-year-old son, Scott Swimm, was sued in a ski crash.

Since the lawsuit, which is still in federal court, Susan Swimm has told a number of people about the value of personal liability insurance, she said.

“Everybody should know that they should have this policy,” said Susan Swimm, who lives in Eagle-Vail.

Since the Swimm’s case, more customers than usual have asked about whether they have enough personal liability coverage, which insures them in case of a ski accident, said James McGalliard, the Swimm’s insurance counselor and a partner at Alpine Insurance Agency in Edwards.

“It’s been such a high profile case that yeah, it’s really popped up on people’s radars,” McGalliard said.

The importance of insurance

Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance is known for covering people in fires or burglaries, but that insurance also includes personal liability, which covers everything from skiers at fault in ski crashes to homeowners if a pizza delivery man falls and hurts himself in their icy driveway.

Homeowner’s insurance is inexpensive relative to its benefits, insurance agents in the Vail Valley said. How much it costs each year depends on how much money and assets a person wants to insure.

Insurance agents rarely have had clients in the Vail Valley who have had claims made against them in skiing accidents, they said.

Michael Neff, of Michael Neff Agency Inc. in Avon, said he has only had one client who has had a personal liability claim made against them in 10 years — and it wasn’t a skiing accident. He hasn’t gotten an unusual number of calls from people about personal liability insurance lately.

“We’ve certainly had some people ask about it,” he said.

The insurance generally starts at $300,000 in coverage, and it pays for claims or legal fees and settlements in case of a lawsuit, he said.

If people have more money or assets to protect, they can buy more expensive “umbrella” coverage which insures them in $1-million increments, Neff said. Each increment generally costs $150 and up each year.

50 lawsuits filed annually

Insurance covers people who are “negligent” in ski crashes, such as if skiers hit other skiers while talking their cell phones or if they fail to look ahead or to yield to the skier below, said Jim Chalat, a Denver personal injury attorney who represents clients in ski-related lawsuits.

“You don’t have to mean to hurt somebody in order to be responsible for their injuries,” he said.

Insurance does not cover skiers when they cause a crash in which they skied recklessly, such as if he or she intentionally hits another skier, insurance agents said.
But “Unless it’s blatant malicious intent, your coverage is pretty secure,” McGalliard said.

Chalat estimates that 50 skier lawsuits are filed in Colorado courts each year.

Defendants in those lawsuits normally have insurance, he said. Some cases are settled between skiers and insurance companies without involving courts, he said.
A great deal of lawsuits involve children as plaintiffs and defendants, as the Colorado Skier Safety Act applies to everyone regardless of age, Chalat said.

Children are usually victims in ski crashes, and Chalat has represented plaintiffs as young as 4 years old, he said.

Swimms want to end case

The Swimms have agreed to a $25,000 settlement in their son’s ski crash instead of going to trial, she said.

“We want to put this behind us,” she said.

Scott Swimm is accused of running into David Pfahler, 61, of Pennsylvania, on Arrowhead Mountain in January 2007.

Then 7, Scott was skiing slowly and in control when he tried to pass Pfahler, his father, Robb Swimm has said.

Almost eight months later, Scott and his father were named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that Scott collided with Pfahler, who tore a tendon in his shoulder in the crash.

Pfahler and his wife, Marlene Ambrogio, lost at least $75,000 after the crash, the lawsuit says.

Without insurance, the Swimms also would have had to pay thousands more in attorney’s fees.

Chalat, who is representing Pfahler, declined comment on the case.

The case hasn’t been resolved yet because the Swimms disagree with a condition that would bar Scott from suing Pfahler when Scott turns 18, Susan Swimm said.
“I quite frankly think they should shove that where the sun don’t shine,” she said.