Vail Resorts, Taft Conlin's parents fail to settle case

BROOMFIELD — The wrongful death case stemming from an avalanche that killed a local teen appears headed for trial after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on Thursday.

Earlier this year, a Broomfield District Court Judge had ordered Vail Resorts and the family of Taft Conlin to mediation, to try to settle their case without going to trial.

After a day of negotiations, the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

“Mediation was unsuccessful,” said Jim Heckbert, attorney for veterinarians Louise Ingals and Stephen Conlin, Conlin’s parents.

As part of his order, Judge Patrick Murphy required that everything in Thursday’s mediation session remain confidential. Murphy ordered the two sides to mediation months ago.

Heckbert said it’s now back to business, and that they’ll begin taking depositions in November.

The trial is scheduled for June 2014.

Conlin’s parents outlined their demands, and Vail Resorts issued their response prior to Thursday’s mediation session. Earlier this month, Heckbert and his clients filed a motion asking for punitive damages.

Heckbert said if the family is awarded any money, they won’t keep a nickel of it. All the money will go to nonprofits of their choosing, he said.

“They’ve always said it’s not about the money. They don’t want this to happen to any other families. They want to make an impression on Vail and the ski industry that they never want this to happen again,” Heckbert said.

Heckbert, an attorney with the Denver firm Burg Simpson, asserted that depositions indicated Vail ski patrollers did no avalanche mitigation on Prima Cornice, then created documents afterward to indicate they did.

Vail Resorts says that’s not true, that their ski patrollers performed avalanche mitigation efforts that morning, prior to the slide that killed Conlin.

About 1:45 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2012, Conlin and his friends accessed Prima Cornice trail through the lower gate, which was open. The run’s upper gate was closed following the first big storm of that snow-starved season.

Heckbert cited the Colorado Skier Safety Act as saying that if a ski area operator wants to close a trail, a sign must be placed at each identified entrance, or a rope strung up to identify the closed area.

Conlin and a friend sidestepped about 120 feet to a cliff above the lower gate. The avalanche swept them away and Conlin was killed. The Vail Ski Patrol found his body wrapped around a tree. Eagle County coroner Kara Bettis said he was killed by a blunt force chest injury.

The avalanche was 18 inches deep, 200 feet wide and ran approximately 400 feet, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

“They don’t want this to happen to any other families. They want to make an impression on Vail and the ski industry that they never want this to happen again.”
Jim Heckbert
Attorney for Louise Ingals and Stephen Conlin


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 25, 2013 12:44PM Published Oct 27, 2013 03:40PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.