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October 23, 2013
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Vail Resorts, Taft Conlin's parents in mediation to end lawsuit

EAGLE COUNTY — Months ago, a judge ordered the two sides in Taft Conlin’s wrongful death lawsuit to sit down with mediators, and today they will.

Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy issued his order earlier this year, sending Conlin’s parents and Vail Resorts to mediation scheduled for today.

Attorney Jim Heckbert and Conlin’s parents, Stephen Conlin and Louise Ingalls, both local veterinarians, outlined their demands in writing. The ski company offers its response and that’s where today’s mediation begins, Heckbert said.

Heckbert declined to say what his clients’ demands were.

“I can tell you that some of the parents’ demands are not negotiable. If they don’t agree to those, we’ll go try the case,” Heckbert said.

Let This Never Happen Again

Not a nickel of any money will go to the family; all the money will go to nonprofits of their choosing, Heckbert 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 and Conlin’s parents will be in one room. Vail Resorts officials and their attorneys will be in another room. The mediator will go back and forth, trying to bring the two sides together, Heckbert said.

The mediation session is scheduled to last one day. If the two sides are close, the mediator can order another round, either in person or on the phone, Heckbert said.

Among the issues to be hammered out was whether the 13-year-old Conlin and his friends were skiing on a closed run.

Heckbert, an attorney with the Denver firm Burg Simpson, filed a motion earlier this month asking for punitive damages. In that motion, Heckbert asserted that depositions indicated Vail ski patrollers did no avalanche mitigation on Prima Cornice, then created documents afterward to indicate they did.

About 1:45 p.m. 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.

Taking Prevention Steps

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

“If you want to close a portion of a trail you have to clearly mark it as closed,” Heckbert said. “It’s called drawing a line in the snow. If they don’t want people hiking up, they needed to put up a sign saying no hiking up.”

Vail Resorts says they performed avalanche mitigation efforts that morning, prior to the slide that killed Conlin, including two ski patrollers who say they kicked snow off the top of the run. However, Heckbert says the evidence disputes that.

Kelly Ladyga, vice president of Vail corporate communications, said Heckbert’s assertions are untrue.

“The suggestion that any member of Vail Ski Patrol lied or deliberately misled the CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) or anyone else is baseless and absolutely false,” Ladyga said. “This was a terrible tragedy that everyone at Vail is saddened by, but disparaging the men and women of ski patrol is both wrong and unfortunate.”

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

“It’s called drawing a line in the snow. If they don’t want people hiking up, they needed to put up a sign saying no hiking up.”
Jim Heckbert
Attorney representing the Conlin famiy


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 24, 2013 05:54PM Published Oct 25, 2013 12:18PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.