FARMINGTON A Franklin County justice has ruled that the majority of a lawsuit filed by a Delaware couple in connection to three family members who were seriously injured when a chairlift broke at Sugarloaf in 2010 can move forward.

Justice Nancy Mills dismissed a counterclaim May 29 that was filed by corporations linked to Sugarloaf ski resort against Dr. Michael and Patricia Katz of Wilmington, Del. The couple is suing the corporations on behalf of themselves and minor daughters, Abigail and Emily.

Michael Katz and his two daughters were on the Spillway East chairlift at the Carrabassett Valley ski resort Dec. 28, 2010, when the lift broke and they fell 35 feet to the ground. All three received serious injuries; the elder Katz suffered from a traumatic brain injury, and the girls each had closed-head injuries.

Mills denied the defendants’ request to dismiss count II, common carrier liability.

Mills’ ruling allows the lawsuit to move into the discovery phase, which has a scheduled deadline of Jan. 31, 2015. Three other counts of negligence, loss of consortium and punitive damages also go forward.

The Katzes filed the suit against CNL Lifestyle Properties Inc., CLP Sugarloaf LLC, Boyne USA Inc. and Sugarloaf Mountain Corp. in October 2013 and submitted an amended suit on Nov. 13.

A portion of the cable carrying the chairs on the Spillway East chairlift fell off the chairlift towers, causing a number of chairs and those persons sitting in them to fall about 35 feet to the ground, according to the lawsuit.

The Katzes were among several people injured.

Katz‘s daughters were riding in the chair behind him when the chairs fell. Abigail was thrown from her chair after it hit the ground, while Emily was dragged up the mountain by the lift because a piece of her ski equipment was stuck in the chair, according to the suit.

In Mills’ order on motions to dismiss, it states that defendants argued that the Katzes‘ claim of common carrier liability must be dismissed, because under Maine law ski-lift operators are not common carriers. They argued that a higher standard of care does not apply to ski-lift operations.

Maine’s Skiers’ and Tramway Passengers’ Responsibilities Act recognizes that there are inherent risks associated with skiing and riding tramways and precludes liability for harm from these inherent risks, the order states.

The act also allows for certain actions against a ski-area operator. Under the actions-not-prohibited section, it does not prevent the maintenance of an action against a ski-area operator for the negligent operation or maintenance of the ski area, or the negligent design, construction, operation or maintenance of a passenger tramway.

The Sugarloaf parties argued that an ordinary negligence duty of care applies to ski-lift operators.

Nothing in the law, however, specifies the standard of care that tramway operators owe to passengers, Mill’s order states.

The Katzes‘ common carrier claim is consistent with the “statute because they allege negligent operation and maintenance of the ski lift,” it states.

“Because the statute does not clearly modify the common law regarding common carriers, the issue is whether, under common law principles, ski lift operators are common carriers,” according to the order.

Although the Law Court has never directly addressed the issue, other jurisdictions have held that ski-lift operators are common carriers or otherwise subject to a heightened duty of care because they charge money to get from one place to another, the document states.

The Sugarloaf parties’ counter-suit claimed that because the Katzes bought ski passes for their minor daughters that Michael Katz agreed to indemnify defendants against any successful claims brought by Emily and Abigail.

The most significant decision was the dismissal of the counterclaim, said Katz family attorney Benjamin Rogoff Gideon of Berman & Simmons in Lewiston.

If the counterclaim had not been dismissed, or if Katz‘s daughters had won any settlement, their father would have to pay the corporations back, he said.

Allowing the common carrier claim to move forward acknowledges that ski-area corporations may be held to the heightened safety standards of common carriers, just as taxi cabs and buses, he said.

The decisions are “very good news” for the Katz family, he said.

The Katzes are still dealing with challenges related to the injuries they received, he said.

He believes the case will go to trial in the spring of 2015.

A spokesman for Sugarloaf Corp. was not immediately available for comment.

dperry@sunjournal.com

Michael and Patricia Katz et al v. CNL Lifestyle Properties et al