Wachusett Mountain Ski Area Inc. must face claims it committed fraud on the court by falsifying employee training records that proved crucial to a suit that resulted in a $4.5 million award in favor of a child injured after his fall from a ski lift, a Massachusetts appeals court ruled Monday.
The trial court abused its discretion when, without holding an evidentiary hearing, it denied Heidi Hache’s motion for a finding of fraud, the appeals court said. Hache’s 12-year old son was injured in the accident.
The lower court found no evidence that Wachusett, its president, owner, or attorneys knew about the forged training records until Hache’s counsel “uncovered them in the course of discovery.”
The trial judge also found no evidence “that they intentionally provided forged documents or intentionally gave false answers to questions posed in depositions.”
As soon as Wachusett became aware that an employee had altered the records related to the ski lift operator’s training, it conceded liability, the trial judge said. “Thus, at no time was the court influenced by, or operating under false or fraudulent information,” the lower court said.
Reversing and remanding, the appeals court said “without an evidentiary hearing, the judge was in no position to make these findings and, in that sense, the findings were insufficiently supported and clearly erroneous.”
Without hearing evidence on the issue, it was clearly erroneous to find that neither Wachusett nor its officers knew of the fraudulent documents, the court said.
And because the company denied negligence for three years before then—commencing with its answer filed in June 2016—a sufficient fact issue exists as to whether Wachusett’s conduct hampered the judicial process, the court said.
After Wachusett stipulated to liability in the underlying case, the matter went to trial on the issue of damages, resulting in the judgment of $4.5 million.
Judges Vickie L. Henry, Sabita Singh and Gabrielle R. Wolohojian issued the opinion.
Jeffrey S. Raphaelson in Boston represents Hache.
Bowditch & Dewey LLP and Sloane and Walsh LLP represent Wachusett Mountain Ski Area.
The case is Hache v. Wachusett Mountain Ski Area Inc., 2021 BL 191007, Mass. App. Ct., No. 20-P-455, 5/24/21.