2017-01-05 / News

Island Snowmobile Deaths Can Now Proceed to a Jury Trial

The cause of death for two sisters who died in a snowmobile crash on Mackinac Island in 2010 can proceed to a jury trial, now that the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal. In a December 21 order, the high court denied an appeal from the snowmobile manufacturer, Arctic Cat, to overturn a January 2016 appellate court ruling that sent the case to trial.

Sisters Karen Schwarck, 59, and Edith Bonno, 57, died Sunday, February 7, 2010, when the machine Mrs. Schwarck was driving, and on which Mrs. Bonno was a passenger, backed through a wood fence on Mackinac Island and fell 40 feet down the West Bluff.

Their families sued Arctic Cat and others involved in the manufacture and distribution of the snowmobile, claiming the reverse gear alarm was silent and caused Mrs. Schwarck to believe she was in the forward gear when the crash occurred. The families argued that the alarm only sounded in the extreme reverse position of the gear lever and that it was silent when the lever was moved toward the forward gear position, but still engaged in the reverse gear.

The Mackinac County Circuit Court, May 1, 2014, ruled that such a possibility was not enough to find Arctic Cat negligent. It refused to reconsider the case on June 30 of that year. But on appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled January 14, 2016, that a jury should decide whether this was a malfunction and whether it caused the deaths.

Arctic Cat appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court said it was not convinced it should get involved before the trial is heard. Two justices on the seven-person Supreme Court filed dissenting statements, saying they thought the Supreme Court should hear arguments. But the majority refused, and that lets the Court of Appeals ruling stand.

Mrs. Schwarck lived at Trillium Heights on the Island with her husband.

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