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Thursday, 02 June 2005




Oregon jury in two minds
In what is believed to be the first liability verdict involving a snowboard manufacturer, a jury ruled a Swiss company was not to blame for the 2002 death of a young woman on Mount Bachelor. Frank and Ellen Svitek sued Nidecker of Rolle, Switzerland, after their daughter, Kate Svitek, 22, was trapped in a well of deep snow surrounding a tree and died on 8 Feb 2002, at the central Oregon ski resort.

The verdict was not unanimous, and three jurors lingered in a hallway outside the courtroom to tell the dead woman's parents that the snowboard industry should pay more attention to product safety.

Binding safety in question
The case centered on the snowboard's bindings, a crucial piece of equipment in a sport that has exploded in popularity over 20 years. Bindings affix a rider's feet to a snowboard but unlike ski bindings, which automatically release in a fall to prevent injury, snowboard bindings do not release.

At trial, the lawyer for the manufacturer, Nidecker of Rolle, Switzerland, argued two main points. Nonreleasable bindings are safer, he said, because when a rider falls, the snowboard acts as an anchor. Releasable bindings, he added, can cause injuries if only one foot releases from the board. Although a few releasable bindings have been marketed, they generally are not available in equipment stores.

Board acts as an anchor
During the trial, the Sviteks' attorney introduced evidence that nonreleasable bindings increase the risk of death if a snowboarder falls into a well of deep snow around a tree trunk. Unable to kick off the board, a rider can become trapped and die from lack of oxygen.

The Sviteks said they knew they were breaking ground with a lawsuit. A search of legal databases shows that a product-liability case against a manufacturer of snowboard bindings had never gone to a jury in the United States.

Portland lawyer Brad Stanford, who represented Nidecker, said his client thinks the verdict "reaffirms that these nonreleasable bindings are safe."

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