Three people trampled by a horse at a 2017 skijoring event in Silverton have filed a lawsuit blaming the drone operator and event coordinator for their injuries.
The plaintiffs, Glenn and Christina “Tina” Hood of Bayfield and Sandra and James Petta of Bradenton, Florida, are seeking monetary damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and expenses resulting from an injury.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Matthew Crossett, the drone pilot and former employee of Fast Forward Media LLC; and The San Juan County Historical Society, doing business as Skijoring Silverton; and Skijoring America, a Montana-based nonprofit. The lawsuit accuses Crossett of irresponsible drone operation and event organizers of providing negligent safety measures.
The Hoods and Pettas claim that on Feb. 18, 2017, Crossett, who lived in Durango at the time, flew a drone too close to a horse at the starting gate of a skijoring course on Blair Street in Silverton. The buzzing sound and sudden movement spooked the horse and “as a result, this horse darted into the crowd of spectators who were watching at the starting gate and trampled plaintiffs Tina Hood, James Petta and Sandra Petta,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims that Skijoring Silverton and Skijoring America “did not provide sufficient protective barriers between the course and the spectators to ensure the safety of those watching.” It also claims that the defendants failed “to take reasonable steps to protect against dangerous conditions and to provide a safe and secure viewing environment for the plaintiffs.”
Durango attorney James McDonough, who represents the plaintiffs, said his clients “suffered some serious injuries.” The plaintiffs tried to work with the defendants to resolve the case, he said, but they’ve reached an impasse that may require a judge and jury to become involved.
The threat of a lawsuit resulted in Silverton Skijoring canceling its 2018 event because of insurance issues.
The plaintiffs are seeking more than $100,000 in damages, according to court records. McDonough said his clients want the defendants to address safety hazards in what he called “one of the most dangerous sports on snow.”
Skijoring America declined to comment, as none of the current board members were serving when the incident happened. The San Juan County Historical Society said Thursday it hadn’t yet been notified of the lawsuit and declined to comment. Efforts to reach Crossett for comment were unsuccessful.
No criminal charges were filed in 2017. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and concluded the pilot’s actions did not meet criteria for criminal charges.
In the days after the incident, San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said he reported the incident to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has rules for flying drones over crowds. The Durango Herald has submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests with the FAA seeking information about possible charges, but the federal agency has repeatedly denied those requests, saying it remains an ongoing investigation. The Herald submitted a new request last week, but as of Thursday, The FAA said it was still processing the request.