Skater's lawsuit against USOC dismissed

Updated: April 27, 2006, 3:03 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - A former Olympic short-track speedskater who sustained a career-ending injury in Lake Placid had her lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee dismissed by an appeals court Thursday.

Nikki Ziegelmeyer, a silver medalist in 1992 and bronze medalist in 1994, never returned to competitive skating despite a comeback attempt after her accident in 1997 while training for the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

Ziegelmeyer, then 22, was skating at 35 mph when she smashed into a padded wall at the skating oval. The crash fractured vertebrae and sent bone fragments into her spinal canal. Surgery reconstructed her vertebrae and a permanent rod stabilized her spine.

Ziegelmeyer contended the pads were not properly installed and failed to stop her slide into the boards.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court disagreed. In a 3-2 decision it upheld a lower court's 2004 ruling dismissing the suit. The court ruled Ziegelmeyer assumed a risk of injury every time she stepped on the ice, and there was no evidence the pads were defective.

"An athlete who voluntarily participates in a sport 'consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport," Justice Anthony Carpinello wrote for the majority.

Matthew Kelly, the lawyer representing the USOC, said the decision allows skating rinks, ski resorts, horseback riding outfits and other businesses to keep operating.

"This is a big issue for the recreational industry throughout New York," he said. "If we had to protect everyone in the way they are asking, there wouldn't be an activity worth doing."

Ziegelmeyer's attorney, Mark McCarthy, said he would appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

"Athletes don't assume the risks if the safety equipment was put up improperly," he said. "Whether the padding was put up properly was not the kind of decision the appellate division had the right to make."

Presiding Justice Anthony Cardona, in his dissent, said the court record contains "arguable questions" as to whether the pads were properly installed and that the suit should be heard by a jury.

Ziegelmeyer now runs a painting contracting business with her husband in her hometown of Imperial, Mo., outside St. Louis.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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