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Family of teen killed in avalanche sues Vail
VAIL — Taft Conlin's family is suing Vail Resorts, saying the company's negligence created an “avalanche trap” that killed him.
The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit after months of trying to convince the ski company and U.S. Forest Service to talk about changes that could improve skier safety, they said.
A Forest Service investigation report said that Vail Resorts complied with its operating procedures and Forest Service permit requirements. A Colorado Avalanche Information Center report said Conlin and other skiers entered Lower Prima Cornice through an open gate, sidestepped up 120 feet and traversed around to the south when the avalanche engulfed them. That report also said that a skier or rider not a part of Taft's group may have triggered the avalanche since there were multiple tracks in the area, but there was no way to determine that for sure.
“We've wanted from the beginning to discuss this in terms of public safety in the future. We've tried that without litigation,” said Dr. Louise Ingalls, Conlin's mother.
“I'm taking these steps for Taft, for the boys he was skiing with and for the public who skis. I felt it could be done differently,” Ingalls said. “There are changes that could be made to make it safer kids and for all skiers.”
Conlin was killed Jan. 22, when he was swept away by an avalanche on Prima Cornice, in-bounds on the front of Vail Mountain.
Vail Resorts declined to comment about the lawsuit filed Tuesday in District Court in Broomfield, where the ski company's corporate offices are located.
“We are reviewing the lawsuit and do not have any further comment,” said Kelly Ladyga, Vail Resorts director of corporate communications.
Colorado law caps wrongful death awards at $250,000 for children, so they're not in it for the money, said Jim Heckbert, the family's attorney. Ingalls and Dr. Stephen Conlin are local veterinarians.
Read more from the Conlin famiily in the Vail News.
A press statement from the family's lawyers:
BURG SIMPSON FILES WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF THIRTEEN- YEAR-OLD COLORADO BOY KILLED IN AN AVALANCHE AT VAIL SKI RESORT.
Ingalls, Louise H. v. The Vail Corporation;
Civil Action No: 2012CV175
Broomfield County District Court, 17th JD
August 1, 2012, DENVER, COLORADO - Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, P.C. has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the operators of Colorado's Vail Ski Resort on behalf of the parents of a thirteen-year-old boy killed in an avalanche. Taft M.Conlin from Eagle County, Colorado, died as a result of being caught in an avalanche while skiing Vail Mountain on January 22, 2012.
James G. Heckbert, attorney for Taft's surviving parents said, "on the morning of January 22, 2012, an alert was issued for Colorado's front range region, warning that north facing slopes with a 30-degree incline (similar to those found on Vail Mountain) were at risk of an avalanche. In addition, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center advised skiers to 'enjoy the powder, but only in the safety of ski areas.' However, despite the alerts, Vail Mountain Ski Resort not only failed to warn people of the avalanche hazard, but also failed to close potentially unsafe areas of their resort to skiers."
The lawsuit filed against the Broomfield-based Vail Corporation, the company that owns and operates Vail Mountain, alleges that despite detailed warnings issued by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Saturday, January 21 and Sunday, January 22 employees at the Vail Mountain Resort failed to take action necessary to prevent Taft from entering an area susceptible to avalanches and unsafe for skiing.
James Heckbert explains, "On January 22, 2012, there were two entrance gates accessing the Prima Cornice Trail from the Prima Trail on Vail Mountain. The upper entrance gate accessing the Prima Cornice Trail was closed, but the lower entrance gate was left open. Sadly, Taft Conlin passed through that gate and unwittingly found himself in an area of Vail Mountain that was unsafe for skiing and at high risk of avalanche. It was Vail Resort's failure to properly close-off the area that caused Taft's death."
Earlier this year Burg Simpson filed a similar wrongful death lawsuit against Intradwest Corp, the owners of Winter Park Ski Resort, after Chris Norris, a thirty-two year old father of two from Denver, was also killed in an avalanche on January 22, 2012. That case is Fleury, Salyndra v. Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation, Civil Action: 2012 CV 132.