May 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm #1273458
A federal judge on Tuesday awarded $1.95 million to the family of a young boy killed in a 2007 bear attack.
Samuel Ives, 11, was camping in American Fork Canyon with his mother, step-father and brother when he was ripped from his family’s tent and killed by a black bear on the night of June 17, 2007.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said the U.S. Forest Service was required to warn the family that a dangerous animal was on the loose in canyon after reports that a bear had opened coolers and slashed through a tent in the area earlier that day.
Ives’ family “proved by a preponderance of evidence” that the Forest Service owed them a duty “to warn them about the earlier incident, whether the warning was oral, by posting signs on the gate of Timpooneke Road 56, and/or by roping off the specific campsite,” Kimball wrote.
The boy’s grandmother, Sharon Ives, said Tuesday that her family was “thrilled” with the ruling and happy to put the lawsuit behind them.
“It’s hard enough to lose somebody in a violent manner,” she said, “but to have to keep going through it and reliving it — it’s a nightmare.”
Sharon Ives said Sam’s parents filed the lawsuit “to prevent this from happening to anybody else.”
“Sam was always concerned about everybody else and we thought he would want this,” she said. “Money doesn’t bring him back. We think about him every day.”
The United States, meanwhile, could still appeal the judgment.
“We are reviewing the decision and will consult with the Department of Justice as we weigh our options going forward,” Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said in an email Tuesday evening.
Throughout the case, attorneys for the Forest Service said the government agency was immune from litigation and that it’s impossible to prove any action taken by the agency would have changed the outcome of the bear attack.
In court, defense attorneys said the Forest Service did not need to warn of a black bear threat because there had never been a fatal attack by a black bear before in Utah.
Nevertheless, Kimball found the agency negligent in warning of the danger.
Earlier in the day, a camper in the area called the Utah Highway Patrol and the Forest Service to report the earlier bear sighting. UHP officials alerted the Division of Wildlife Resources, which began searching for the bear, deeming it necessary to kill the animal.
The Forest Service employee who spoke with the camper, however, failed to take action and did not notify anyone else of the sighting.
Ives’ family intended to spend the night in the Timpooneke campground, but did not have the $13 for the fee. Instead, they asked if they could camp up the road without paying. The Forest Service employee who spoke with Ives’ family about the campground fee said in court that he would have notified the family of the danger if he had been aware of it.
That night, Samuel Ives was killed. His body was found about 400 yards away from his family’s tent.
The bear was found and killed the next day.
Kimball said the Ives family could have been entitled to as much as $3 million. But a judgment of $1.95 million was awarded because Kimball found the Forest Service to be 65 percent responsible.
The remainder of the liability fell on the DWR for not alerting the Forest Service of its search for a bear it deemed necessary to kill and Ives’ family for having food in the campground.
A granola bar wrapper and an open Coke Zero can were inside the tent.May 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm #1734081
@footeabLocale: Pacific Northwest
Idiot judge, selfish people. Its obvious why no one can do anything without 500 degrees, certificates, and absurd nose pickers because if you don't some Idiot judge will award everything you own to some moron.
Add common sense to our laws, impeach idiot judges, pass a law stating with criteria for irresponsible suits so that when the idiots lose they have to pay the exact same damages they were seeking and have to pay for all of the lawyers the people they are trying to steal from accrued. That alone would lower everyones insurance bills for starters and free up our courts for all the real criminals.
"News" like this just makes me PO'd.May 7, 2011 at 2:02 am #1734105
… but at least on the surface this is ridiculous. Reminds me of the parents who sued the NPS claiming that wastewater from a bathroom at the Glacier Point overlook in Yosemite caused the rock slide that killed their son while he was climbing on the Apron.
All this means for the rest of us is more limitations and restrictions.
And "65% responsible"??? WTF?!!! LOL.May 7, 2011 at 6:13 am #1734119
@servingkoLocale: Intermountain West
They omitted the part about sleeping in clothes worn while cooking, food in the tent, and a food covered camper. The bear was known to be in the area and had been a problem the previous day, but the argument was that the forest service should have "roped off" the area and not allowed them to camp there – an area isn't a in a developed campground. How many square miles to "rope off"? What's a black bear's range? It's still a horrible accident but a little common sense would have gone a long way toward avoiding this.May 7, 2011 at 6:49 am #1734126
@gregfLocale: Canadian Rockies
In canada when two people tried to sue the park service in a similar situation at the Lake Louise Campground it go thrown out of court. Even though shortly after the attack they put a electric fence around the campground to keep bears both black and Grizzly out of the camp.May 7, 2011 at 8:44 am #1734174
It was sad this young boy died and I am not going to second guess the parents. Tons of people camp in those campgrounds without much consideration of bears. The fact they were outside the campground really doesn't matter much.
The second tragedy is that us tax payers will have to pay and not just once but forever. All the hassles and expense of forest employees notifying a whole national forest everytime someone see's a bear. Only in America!May 7, 2011 at 9:12 am #1734185
I'm with you Jeff, this is just frustrating to read
From another site:
"The ruling says the Forest Service "breached its duties" by not warning the public and found the agency to be 65 percent at fault. The judge assigned 25 percent of the blame to the Division of Wildlife Resources for failing to communicate with the Forest Service, and 10 percent of the fault to the boy's family for leaving food out in bear country — specifically a granola wrapper and a Coke Zero can."
While I find it a truly saddening story, and one that could have been easily avoided I believe that leaving the coke zero can and granola wrapper was 100% the proximate cause of this accident. I'm pretty sure this particular judge has never spent a day in the backcountry. Even if they were warned about the bear, I find it doubtful that the family had a means (e.g. bear bag, bear can) to store their food/trash properly, leading me to believe that the accident would have happened regardless of what USFS should have done or said. Truly unfortunate but I believe we all assume the risk of these things when we enter the wild.
I take it that the next time a tree falls down and kills someone in their tent, we should expect a similar payout in damages? This is bad precedent IMO.May 7, 2011 at 9:24 am #1734191
As an attorney, I find cases like this really frustrating. While I generally think that the litigious nature of the US is necessary evil (the alternatives being (1) much higher taxes that everyone pays to support heavy government regulation to keep things safe, or (2) no regulation and no recourse, meaning companies and people can harm others with no consequences), this case demonstrates a profound ignorance of the law and underlying subject matter. It looks like this Judge, and the plaintiffs' attorney, failed to realize that the government does not manage public land to keep people safe from the wilderness — it manages public land to keep the wilderness safe from people. A simple 'assumption of the risk' analysis would have disposed of this case quickly.
Why do the bad cases always get all the press, making everyone in the system look bad? Alas.May 7, 2011 at 9:50 am #1734200
@daviddrakeLocale: North Idaho
+1 Christopher Mills: "keep the wilderness safe from people."
Worth noting that not so long ago, the federal government was spending millions to exterminate big predators for our convenience. In my part of the country, there's still plenty of support for that approach.
In other words, could be worse.May 7, 2011 at 9:56 am #1734203
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
Is it just an internet fable, or have folk sued in the US because their coffee was hot and burnt their lips? :)May 7, 2011 at 10:08 am #1734205
@forbesbLocale: Bay Area
The Coffee legend is accurate. The specific case I know of involved coffee at a McDonald's. However, the case isn't as absurd as it initially sounds as the person won the case because it was shown that McDonald's heated their coffee to extreme (dangerous) temperatures in order to slow down the rate at which customers drank it and thus cut on refills. I believe it was that strategy coupled with a lack of warnings on the coffee cups that led to McDonald's losing.May 7, 2011 at 10:10 am #1734207
It was real Mike, bout $3mil in damages (subsequently lowered).
That case was a lot more legitimate than the one we are reading about today. Severe injuries (not mere burnt lips), and McDonalds had received hundreds (wiki says 700) of complaints before, without ever addressing the problem until they were forced to pay out their a**. But it doesn't change the frivolous nature of much of the litigation here in the US.
*Yup, +1 to what Forbes said…I'm not sure if it was to cut down on refills in particular, but the coffee temperature was indeed part of a rather reckless business strategy.May 7, 2011 at 10:37 am #1734212
@richardglyonLocale: Bridger Mountains
Yes, it's terrible about the child, and yes, whatever the government does will cost all of us taxpayers more money. But it's worse than that. What the government decides to do will be heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all, and a real nuisance. Thanks to a lawsuit some years back you can't order beef cooked less than medium in a restaurant run by the park service or one of its concessionaires. And inexplicable decisions like Judge Kimball's will only encourage other personal injury lawyers (the ones behind many of these suits) to dream up similar far-fetched theories for other accidents. At least in this one the family didn't contribute to their misfortune, as is often the case.May 7, 2011 at 10:49 am #1734219
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
The last time i visited family in New York, the bathroom in JFK was full after i got of the flight.
Can i sue someone for the laundry bill? :)
You guys are crazy!May 7, 2011 at 11:27 am #1734236
"Is it just an internet fable, or have folk sued in the US because their coffee was hot and burnt their lips? :)"
This is an example of what I think is a meritorious lawsuit, which the media (or, more likely, the Chamber of Commerce lobby) unfairly portrayed as a baseless one. The plaintiff had to get a SKIN GRAFT after spilling the coffee on her sweat pants (it was NOT spilled on bare skin). Imagine how hot the coffee has to be to do that. I don't think anyone would have expected the coffee to be nearly hot enough to do that. And McD's was serving it to people in the drive through, who McDonald's knew would be driving around with it? Sounds pretty negligent to me.
But this isn't even close to the bear case. The government isn't managing things for people's safety. To make that point more clearly, imagine if the kid were killed by a bear in the zoo at which the staff knew that the bear had escaped its cage before the family even entered the zoo. In that case, if the staff didn't warn the family about the problem bear out of its enclosure, the zoo would be liable big time. There, the zoo IS responsible for keeping people safe from the animals, as everyone visiting the zoo would expect. No so with most public land.May 7, 2011 at 11:31 am #1734238
@socal-nomadLocale: North San Diego county
This is crazy everybody knows when you go camping in the wilderness or near wilderness area their are risks and death is one of them. This is the type of family would have sued if their kid was playing on a jungle gym at the park and the kid fell and broke his neck and died.
What ever happened to lick your wounds and get on with your life. I wish the supreme court would rule Life in general is dangerous.Then it would put a end to all the silly lawsuits.
TerryMay 7, 2011 at 11:42 am #1734245
Chris, +1000 on the zoo example. Any harm done on visitors is going to be the result of human error/negligence, as the animals are in a human-controlled setting. The same cannot be said when we are on their territory in the backcountry. Truly sad example of man-made law misunderstanding nature.May 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm #1734255
@redmonkLocale: Greater California Ecosystem
ban families, for the children's sake.
We can't afford to pay out everytime a parent let's their kid get eaten by a grue.
It's the only fiscally responsible way to prevent these tragedies.May 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm #1734274
"The government isn't managing things for people's safety. To make that point more clearly, imagine if the kid were killed by a bear in the zoo at which the staff knew that the bear had escaped its cage before the family even entered the zoo. In that case, if the staff didn't warn the family about the problem bear out of its enclosure, the zoo would be liable big time. There, the zoo IS responsible for keeping people safe from the animals, as everyone visiting the zoo would expect. No so with most public land."
I couldn't agree more! One of the worst decisions I've read about, and likely to hog-tie the National Forest system even worse than it already is.May 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm #1734291
"his is an example of what I think is a meritorious lawsuit, which the media (or, more likely, the Chamber of Commerce lobby) unfairly portrayed as a baseless one. The plaintiff had to get a SKIN GRAFT after spilling the coffee on her sweat pants (it was NOT spilled on bare skin). Imagine how hot the coffee has to be to do that. I don't think anyone would have expected the coffee to be nearly hot enough to do that. And McD's was serving it to people in the drive through, who McDonald's knew would be driving around with it? Sounds pretty negligent to me. "
Spill something hot on some fabric, it's MUCH worse than spilling on bare skin because the fabric holds the heat against the body. Spilling hot water while cooking in the backcountry on one of my liner gloves was a good reminder to me of that. Your allusion that spilling it on her garments somehow makes it less damaging than spilling on bare skin is very much backwards.
Any coffee fiend, myself included, will tell you that coffee is best made with water just south of boiling. McDonalds no doubt makes a LOT of coffee, leading to the assumption that most of it has been made recently, and therefore is close to boiling. Nothing negligent about that, I doubt an argument could be made that their coffee is any hotter than the coffee in the pot at my office, but if my dumb and clumsy self spills said coffee in my lap, I'm not going to blame them for it, it's me that shouldn't be such a clutz. I suppose it's a moot point as I don't drink the office swill, but the point is the same.
This case has the reputation as one of the most frivolous lawsuit in American history for a reason, it IS one of the most frivolous suits in our embarrassing litigious history. I'm surprised nobody sues the car makers for car accidents, after all, they're selling a product that kills hundreds (thousands?) of people every year, sounds pretty negligent to me, by the logic proposed above, no?
Our legal system sickens me, I'm glad I got to sit on a jury for a civil suit in which we awarded the plaintiff a spiteful amount of money for wasting our time(we found out later that the insurance company had offered them 10x what we awarded them to settle out of court).
Horrible that the kid died, but this is a risk you accept when you step into the wilderness.May 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm #1734293
@chrismorganLocale: Southern Oregon
Here's a link: https://ecf.utd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2008cv0244-101 (or 2011 WL 1667915)May 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm #1734297
Overturn on appeal, I predict. Eventually, Federal courts will back Federal agencies. Only gonna get worse, bear population is exploding due to an abundant supply of food and no management.
And in the McDonald's case, the lady only asked to have her medical bills covered. She sued when McD's told her to get stuffed.May 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm #1734301
+1 on hopes of an overturn.
I know this is going to sound mean but our herd could stand to be thinned a bit. Accidents like this usually take out the idiots which really helps improve our gene pool. But in this case it was unfortunate it was an innocent kid.May 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm #1734341
"And there's no implied assumption of risk when camping?"
Chris, this was the part that was confusing me as well, and unfortunately the actual case doesn't appear to elaborate much on it. However I did find the following article which hints at the plaintiff's reasoning, to which It appears that this particular judge also concurs.
Here's the relevant portion:
"The bear that killed Ives at a campground in American Canyon on June 17, 2007 had attacked a camper in the same location earlier that day. Officials searched for the bear after the attack on Jake Francom but did not post a sign warning campers about it or close the campground.
U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball is scheduled to hear the government's motion Nov. 19. And plaintiffs Kevan Francis and Rebecca Ives are saying he should distinguish between “a specific known risk and the generalized risks of recreation in wilderness areas.”
“The actions at issue here have nothing to do with … what kinds of generalized warning signs should be posted to warn campers about the risks associated with bears,” they say in a brief opposing dismissal. “Rather, the action being challenged here is how the government dealt with a specific bear that was threatening a specific campsite.”
Attorney Sarah H. Young, who wrote the brief, presents the hypothetical case of government officials knowing “a canyon with several known campsites is about to be flooded due to a burst dam” but failing to warn campers, who perish as a result.
“[A]t a certain point, a life-threatening danger becomes so concrete that it is impossible to credibly assert that the failure to warn of that danger involved a decision that presented competing public policy concerns,” Young says, and
[The] danger involved in the case at bar was only slightly less dramatic than the flood hypothetical. The risk to anyone using the campsite in question, while the bear was still at large, was enormous, and the ability to warn campers, or close the campsite, required almost no effort."
Personally, I feel that the dangers associated with a burst dam, and destructive course of flood water is more predictable than the behavior and roaming distance of a wild black bear. Also, unlike the peculiar incident of burst dam, wildlife dangers are always present, and something all knowledgeable campers should have on their mind when they sleep outside. My 2cents
Can you imagine a case like this in Yosemite where bears roam and raid campsites on a hourly basis? Will the USFS be forced to overreact in future incidences, and ban camping for days on end to cover their own a** whenever a bear raids food? Who benefits from any of this? Dumb people are still going leave food out and get attacked, but unless they fit into this arbitrary 12-hr window, they are left with no redress. UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!May 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm #1734348
@chrismorganLocale: Southern Oregon
Here's the brief if you're interested: 2008 WL 5345479.
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