When a child dies, many parents feel as if an integral part of them has died. Immense feelings of sadness and grief plague bereaved parents in a manner that is unparalleled. However, in the event that a child’s death could have been prevented – which is also known as a wrongful death – these feelings are exponentially magnified. In the nation, parents are able to file a lawsuit against any individual, organization or entity that they believe to be legally liable for their child’s death. If the courts affirm this belief and find a defendant responsible for this tragic event, parents will receive compensatory damages for the passing of their child. Although monetary compensation will not bring a child back, it could provide some consolation for parents who are attempting to cope with the aftermath of a wrongful death.
Colorado parents decided to take advantage of their constitutional right to sue Vail Resorts after the death of their 13-year-old son Taft Conlin. The teen was killed by an inbounds avalanche at Vail Mountain in January of 2012. According to the civil lawsuit, Conlin was skiing with several of his friends on the mountain before he was swept away by the 300-foot-wide avalanche. Doctors say that Conlin was killed by blunt force drama to his chest.
The lawsuit claimed that the Conlin and his friends accessed the Prima Cornice run numerous times from an open lower gate. The upper gate was closed. Conlin’s parents allege that the resort was aware that accessing the upper part of the run from the lower gate was a practice that many skiers had done prior to Conlin’s accident, but they failed to close the lower gate in response to these practices.
Vail Resorts vehemently denied these claims and filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The resort’s basis was a prior landmark Colorado Supreme Court ruling (Fleury vs. Intrawest) that protects ski resorts from liability when avalanches occur. The courts concluded that inbound avalanches are included in the Colorado Ski Safety Act’s inherent risks of skiing. Judge Frederick Gannet dismissed the motion and disagreed with the resort’s claims, writing that improper signage may have played a significant role in the death of Conlin.
However, the trial – that was supposed to ensue on August 7, 2017 – will be postponed due to the fact that Conlin’s parents are requesting that Judge Gannet be disqualified from presiding over the case. Jim Heckbert, the attorney for Conlin’s parents expressed that the judge’s statements during a hearing reveal that he has already prejudged the case.
Heckbert’s comments are based off of a prior hearing where the number of witnesses who would be allowed to testify, along with the evidence the jury would be allowed to hear was discussed by both him and the judge. Judge Gannet and Heckbert heatedly went back and forth about how the trial would ensue. In Gannet’s ruling, he claimed that the “discussions were clearly theoretical… for and against the relevance and admissibility of particular evidence.” He went on to say that these discussions were not enough to disqualify him.
Vail Resort’s attorneys do not agree with the plaintiff’s assertion that Judge Gannet should be disqualified. The defendant’s legal representation wrote a statement backing their opinion of the debacle.
“Plaintiffs may disagree with these comments and the court’s view of the proper scope of evidence, but the court’s comments are insufficient to warrant recusal,” the defense wrote in their response.
Despite these comments from the defense and from Judge Gannet, Heckbert appealed the case to the Colorado Supreme Court. All parties are waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision.
Experienced Wrongful Death Attorneys
At the law firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we understand that coping with the death of a loved one is an extremely taxing and difficult process. Let us focus on handling the legal obligations while you focus on recuperating from the loss you’ve suffered through. We encourage you to contact us today for a consultation.