A lawsuit against the Chetek Chamber of Commerce has been settled out of court, with the chamber of commerce admitting no fault in a man’s injury in a snowmobile crash on Lake Chetek. An attorney representing the chamber could not disclose if the settlement included a cash payment or not.
The case, filed in October 2018, stemmed from a snowmobile crash on a snow berm along the race track at the 2018 Chetek Winter Fest. The injured party, Michael J. Kroeger, of Chetek, and his wife, Trudy Kroeger, also of Chetek, sued the Chetek Chamber of Commerce, alleging the organization was negligent and at fault for the crash and his resulting injuries.
Kroeger was injured on Feb. 24, 2018, shortly after the Winter Fest ice track racing event had concluded. Reports at the time said he had broken his leg and was transported to an area hospital.
The lawsuit included the chamber’s insurance company and the couple’s health insurance company. The Kroegers sought compensation for the costs of his treatment, ongoing pain, loss of quality of life and loss of income. The couple was represented by attorney Dean R. Rohde, of Bye, Goff, & Rhode Ltd., of River Falls. Kroeger also named the City of Chetek and its insurance company in the lawsuit, but the city and its insurance were later dismissed from the case as they are not directly involved with Winter Fest.
Kroeger’s attorney claimed he was injured due to the negligence of the chamber, which was denied by the chamber and its attorney, Ronald G. Pezze, of Ratzel, Pytlik & Pezze LLC, of Brookfield.
In court documents, Pezze argued that the chamber had, via state statues, recreational immunity for the event. Rohde countered that recreational immunity could not apply to the chamber as it did not own the lake where the event was held. Attorneys also argued whether or not Winter Fest’s ice track crossed an established snowmobile trail and if that was relevant or not to the case.
On March 18, 2020, the court denied the chamber’s request the case be dropped on the grounds of recreational immunity.
The year prior, in August 2019, the Kroegers offered to settle the case for $270,000. At the time, Pezze said the offer was rejected, citing Kroeger’s liability in the crash. In November 2019, an amended settlement was offered by the Kroegers for $180,000, but it was not accepted at that time either.
Following the court’s decision to deny recreational immunity, there was a dismissal filed in July, with Barron County Judge J. M. Bitney approving the dismissal on July 16. Court documents said the case was dismissed with prejudice and without costs to any party, pursuant to the terms of a settlement.
“The case settled as a compromise,” said the chamber’s attorney, Pezze, via email on Tuesday, Sept. 8. “The Chetek Chamber of Commerce maintains that it did nothing inappropriate. It maintains that it was without fault for the accident.”
Asked if there was financial compensation in the settlement, Pezze said he could not say, but added the resolution of the case was a “compromise.”
Asked about the case and settlement, current chamber president Darryl Dahl deferred to Pezze.
A message and email left for Rohde last week were not returned as of press time on Sept. 8. A message for comment from Kroeger was not returned on Sept. 8.