Brian Musselman, former snowmobile racer and a member of the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame has been awarded $10.7 million for injuries sustained in a 1996 snowmobile accident that occurred on a trail just north of West Yellowstone, Montana. Federal Judge Don Molloy of Missoula, Montana ordered the award in February of 2004.
Musselman, age 35 at the time, sustained a severe head injury and has required around the clock care since the incident. At the time of the occurrence he was Vice President and General Manager of International Engineering and Manufacturing, a snowmobile traction control products company that markets under the registered trademark Woody’s. The company is owned by his father, James Musselman, a 2003 inductee to the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St Germain, Wisconsin.
The U.S. Forest Service must pay $4 million of the total award, as they were determined by the judge to be 40% responsible for the damages. Among other theories, the suit alleged that the U.S. Forest Service neglected to fix or warn snowmobilers of dangerous conditions on the groomed trail.
The action was brought by Brian Musselman’s former wife, Kimberlee Musselman, on behalf of their daughter, Devon; and by Brian’s sister, Lori Oberson, on his behalf.
According to published reports, the accident occurred between 10 and 11 PM on February 25th, 1996 when Musselman was riding with a group on the Big Sky Trail, en route from a dinner. The group consisted of Jaime Leinberger, Patrick Kalahar, and Tim Johnson. Musselman and Johnson traversed a hill, which had a drop of about 17 feet. Johnson’s snowmobile sustained some damage in the process. It is believed that Musselman pulled his sled off the trail and walked over to either assist Johnson or warn the following riders. Allegedly, Kalahar and Leinberger then came over the crest of the hill side by side at speed. Musselman was struck by one of the machines, crushing his helmet and causing his injuries.
Judge Molloy was unable to determine which rider was responsible for striking Musselman, however Kalahar settled before trial. The judge held Leinberger to be responsible for 50% of the award. Musselman himself was 10% responsible, according to the court. The ruling indicated that Musselman was not impaired by alcohol at the time of the incident.
Molloy wrote in his judgment that â€œThe presence of signs throughout the trail system created a reasonable expectation that a hill of unexpected steepness would be signedâ€.
In addition to these parties, the suit also named as defendants the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The former settled prior to trial while the latter was dismissed from the suit.
According to State of Michigan Workers Compensation Appellate Division records, Musselman was also awarded Workers Compensation benefits in 1998 for the injuries sustained in this incident. A Magistrate ruled, and on appeal by Federated Mutual Insurance, the Appellate Board concurred, that Musselman was in the course of his employment at the time he sustained the permanently disabling injuries.
(Source: Bob Kirchner, Keystone Snowmobiler)