Vail Resorts not exempt from lawsuit in avalanche death, judge rules
June 19, 2014
BROOMFIELD — A jury will likely decide a lawsuit stemming from the avalanche death of a Vail teenager, a judge ruled.
District Court Judge Chris Melonakis refused a request by Vail Resorts to throw out a lawsuit stemming from the January 2012 death of Taft Conlin, who died in an avalanche on upper Prima Cornice, on the front side of Vail Mountain.
Conlin's parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Vail Resorts, saying the ski company did not close the run, despite the avalanche danger. They say the ski company violated the Colorado Ski Safety Act when it closed the top gate to Prima Cornice, but not the lower gate. In their lawsuit, Conlin's parents claim the law requires ski operators to close all entrances to a closed run.
While the ski company agreed that the lower entrance was not marked closed, its attorneys argued that when Conlin sidestepped up into an area between the two gates he, "knew or reasonably should have known that the slope uphill from the gate was closed."
Last February, the Colorado Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit stemming from a Winter Park avalanche death, saying that avalanches in a ski area’s boundaries on open runs are among those inherent dangers.
Vail Resorts argued that Colorado's Skier Safety Act grants it immunity from legal action because of the "inherent" dangers in skiing and snowboarding.
Last February, the Colorado Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit stemming from a Winter Park avalanche death, saying that avalanches in a ski area's boundaries on open runs are among those inherent dangers.
Following that ruling, Melonakis ordered both sides to present arguments whether the court of appeals decision about the Winter Park avalanche death meant the Vail case should be dismissed.
Conlin's paraents argued that it should not because Prima Cornice was not clearly marked as closed.
Vail Resorts argued that the case should be dismissed. Melonakis disagreed with the ski company, ruling that Conlin's parents may go forward with their lawsuit.
"It is only in the clearest of cases that summary judgment should be entered and the court must deny a motion for summary judgment if, under the evidence, reasonable people may reach different conclusions," Melonakis ruled.
"The judge is saying a jury is going to decide the case," said Jim Heckbert, an attorney with Burg Simpson representing Conlin's parents, Louise Ingalls and Steve Conlin, both local veterinarians.
The trial was originally scheduled for this month, but was postponed when Melonakis ordered both sides to make the arguments.