Jury gives $14 million to skier paralyzed at Snoqualmie

The Seattle Times

April 7, 2007

After a five-week trial, a King County jury on Friday awarded $14 million to a 27-year-old skier who was paralyzed after dropping 37 feet from a ski jump at the Summit at Snoqualmie.

Kenny Salvini, of Lake Tapps, was 23 years old when he went off the jump at the Central Terrain Park at Snoqualmie Central and landed on compact snow and ice in February 2004, said his attorney, Jack Connelly.

During the trial at the Regional Justice Center in Kent, "information came out ... that the man who built [the jump] eyeballed it with a Sno-Cat" rather than engineering a design, Connelly said.

Engineers and an aeronautics professor from the University of California, Davis, testified that the jump was improperly designed and featured a short landing area, Connelly said, adding that ski jumps are supposed to be sloped so that energy from a vertical jump is transferred into a skier's forward motion on landing.

"Going off this jump was the equivalent of jumping off a three-story building," Connelly said. "If you're going to be throwing kids 37 feet in the air, these jumps need to be engineered, designed and constructed properly."

Officials from the Summit at Snoqualmie on Friday afternoon wouldn't answer questions about the incident but released a statement. It said risk is inherent in snow sports, but, "that said, any time there is an incident, our genuine thoughts and prayers are with our guests and their families."

The statement said Summit officials "are disappointed but respectful of the [trial] process."

According to Connelly, other people were injured on the same jump in the weeks before Salvini's accident, including a snowboarder who broke his back. A week after Salvini was injured, 19-year-old Peter Melrose of Bellevue died going off a different jump at the same terrain park, he said.

"There were 10 accidents with eight people taken off the slope in a toboggan" in the weeks before Salvini was hurt, landing on what Connelly said was a flat surface. In all, he said, evidence of 15 earlier accidents was admitted into evidence but "nothing was done" by ski operators to fix or close the faulty jumps.

The full jury award was for about $31 million, Connelly said, explaining that the amount was decreased to $14 million after calculating "the comparative fault" of his client and "the inherent risk of the sport."

Before he was injured, Salvini, now a quadriplegic, was captain of the wrestling team at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, where he graduated in engineering technology, Connelly said. His mother is now his full-time caregiver.

Over the course of his life, Salvini's medical needs are estimated to cost between $23 million and $26 million, Connelly said.

By Sara Jean Green