A worker seriously injured by a conveyor ski lift has settled his case against lift designer Tramway Engineering for $10 million.
The deal reached late last month followed a weeklong Cook County bench trial, where Circuit Judge Janet Adams Brosnahan had awarded $18.9 million in damages to plaintiff Patrick O’Donnell.
In March 2014, O’Donnell, then 17 years old, worked for Avalanche Enterprises Inc., the operator of a ski park in northwest suburban Algonquin.
O’Donnell’s responsibilities included cleaning out snow that accumulated under the conveyor lift system — often called a “magic carpet” — used to move snowboarders and skiers from the bottom to the top of the hill.
On March 2, while he was clearing snow from the belt, the machine started up and O’Donnell’s right arm got caught in the machine. He was trapped for more than 30 minutes and, as a result of his injuries, doctors amputated the arm just above the elbow, according to one of his attorneys John P. Scanlon of Healy Scanlon.
Scanlon said there were two prior instances where ski workers sustained similar injuries from the equipment, occurring in 2001 and 2008, but the engineers did nothing to rectify the issue.
Tramway attended safety meetings from 2008 to 2014 to discuss the human entrapment dangers and safety measures that could lessen the risk.
In 2013, a Tramway employee suggested reversing the direction of the brushes, but the idea was not adopted.
The defendant company did not inform ski operators who were using its design at their parks of the potential danger.
Tramway contended its work was limited to determining if the lift could carry people up the hill and ensuring the technology was in compliance with certain regulations.
But Brosnahan’s order determined Tramway had a duty to protect individuals like O’Donnell from the risk of harm posed by the conveyor. Brosnahan wrote Tramway should have recognized the design defect but instead breached its duty when it certified the conveyor as safe.
Ultimately, Brosnahan found Tramway’s breaches of its duty were a proximate cause of O’Donnell’s injuries.
The industry introduced safety regulations in 2017 to require all conveyors have counter-rotating brushes to prevent this type of injury, Scanlon said.
“In our profession, the best results involve not only securing a financial benefit for our client but, as important or more important, we hope to change products to make them more safe,” Scanlon said in an interview.
O’Donnell was also represented by Martin Healy Jr. and David P. Huber of Healy Scanlon.
Healy said in a statement, “No amount of money can compensate a teenager for the loss of their dominant right arm. It is a devastating injury, but this compensation will help him adjust to the injury and give him some hope that in the future new advances in prosthetics may make his life more manageable.”
Huber said in a statement, “Through our work and this judgment we hope this will prevent future workers from suffering this type of horrible injury. The design of this machine could easily have been made safer and should be made safer to prevent future tragedies.”
The defense was represented by Michael A. Barry, Alexander J. Beehler and Brian C. Rocca of Pretzel & Stouffer Chtd.
They could not be reached for comment.
The case is Patrick O’Donnell v. Ropeway Design Inc. d/b/a Tramway Engineering Inc., et al., 15 L 7514.