Downhill Lawyer

To improve his practice, Brad Stanford hit the slopes

Published in 2016 Oregon Super Lawyers — August 2016

Brad Stanford did not join the Mount Hood Ski Patrol for the usual reasons: adventure, glamour, helping injured skiers, the cool red jacket. He did it to become a better lawyer.

An ardent skier since he was 6 years old, Stanford began representing ski and recreation businesses soon after arriving at Farleigh Wada Witt in 1990. “It didn’t even occur to me that this could be a niche area,” says Stanford. “I was fortunate.”

But Stanford realized he could be even better if he experienced a ski area’s daily routine as an insider—so he volunteered for the patrol. 

“I obviously knew how they operated from the cases that I’d handled,” says Stanford. “But actually doing it—being on the ski patrol—really helped me get an intimate knowledge of what the ski patrol does, and helped me understand better how a ski area operates.”

During his four years on the patrol, he largely responded to accidents. None were serious, although the occasional broken arm or leg would require him to load the skier onto a toboggan and take them down the mountain to the first aid clinic. His most memorable rescue was of a skier knocked unconscious. Stanford strapped the man, flat on his back, to a backboard; but as the toboggan picked up speed the man began to vomit. 

“We had to stop and roll him on his side and clear his airway,” Stanford says. 

Serving on the ski patrol also helped in another way. Although he typically defends ski areas from lawsuits, he can now more fully relate to the suffering of those injured on the slopes. 

“We try to be sensitive to those issues,” he says, before adding, “but skiing has inherent risks.”

In November 2012, Stanford represented Mount Hood Skibowl in a lawsuit brought by the parents of 17-year-old Taylur DeWolf, who died that January after crashing into a tree while snowboarding. Her parents sought $4.65 million, asserting that a run marked with a blue square as “more difficult” should have been marked with a black diamond, “most difficult.” The case was tragic, but Stanford argued successfully that the ski area was not responsible.

“Generally speaking, it’s rare that a ski area is found at fault by a jury,” says Stanford, who served as president of the Association of Ski Defense Attorneys in 2007. “Most juries understand that it’s a risky sport, and most juries understand that there are so many decisions to be made on the slopes by the user. It’s just not something a ski area can control.”

Stanford says there’s an Oregon skier-safety statute that defines the risks inherent to skiing and snowboarding. Ski areas additionally protect themselves by posting warnings, marking hazards and educating users about responsible behavior. 

Before joining Farleigh Wada Witt, Stanford worked in Washington, D.C., on the staff of the late Sen. Mark O. Hatfield. But when he and his wife started their family, it was back to the Pacific Northwest and the mountains. His daughters, now ages 25 and 21, learned to ski even earlier than their dad—at age 4. 

So did he have any trepidation about his girls being on the slopes after all the accidents he’d dealt with? Not really. “If you pay attention to signage and the [skier responsibility] code, you’ll have a good foundation,” he says. He made sure, for example, that his daughters wore helmets. As for himself? That lesson took longer. He’s only been using one for two years. “I was a holdout,” he admits with a laugh.

 


 

The Greatest Risk to Skiers

Since 2003, the National Ski Areas Association, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has promoted an education program called “Keep Winter Cool” that is designed to increase understanding of global warming. “They’re working hard on mitigating climate change because it directly affects their business,” says Stanford. “A lot of the Oregon ski areas have participated in various environmental initiatives—purchasing carbon credits, reducing their carbon footprints and trying to educate people on the issue.”

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