Judge to allow punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuit against Vail Resorts
BROOMFIELD — Vail Resorts could be forced to pay punitive damages if they lose a lawsuit in the death of a local teenager.
Broomfield District Court Judge Chris Melonakis ruled that Taft Conlin’s parents could ask for punitive damages if a jury finds in their favor in the 2012 death of their son.
Their attorney, Jim Heckbert,said the best way to punish a corporation that cannot be jailed is to hit them in their pocketbook.
“The judge ruled to allow punitive damages as punishment to make sure someone doesn’t do something like it again,” Heckbert said.
Robert Blume, Vail Resorts’ attorney, called the ruling “purely procedural.”
“The court allowed plaintiffs to add a claim for punitive damages to this matter. The court’s ruling in no way suggests that punitive damages are warranted or appropriate,” Blume said.
Conlin was 13 when an avalanche killed him on Jan. 20, 2012, on Prima Cornice on the front side of Vail Mountain. His parents’ wrongful death lawsuit against Vail Resorts claims that if the ski company wanted to close any part of the run where Conlin was killed, all the entrances should have been closed.
While Prima Cornice’s upper gate was closed, the lower gate was open.
Several skiers accessed Prima Cornice through that lower gate that day.
“This case remains very simply about a young skier’s tragic decision to take an inappropriate risk and hike far into closed terrain. That decision is not something for which Vail Resorts or its employees can or should be held responsible,” Blume said.
Heckbert disagreed, saying the judge’s rulings indicate that in Melonakis’ view there was evidence that the ski company violated Colorado’s Skier Safety Act when they didn’t put a rope across Prima Cornice’s lower gate.
The cap on ski case damage verdicts is $250,000 for compensatory. Punitive damages, if awarded, can be as high as another $250,000. And with costs and interest, the full amount can be more than $700,000.
His parents, local veterinarians Dr. Stephen Conlin and Dr. Louise Ingalls, have said they would not keep the money, but use it for youth programs.
The case is not yet set for trial.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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