Taft Conlin skier death lawsuit against Vail Resorts to begin June 11; family claims VR was negligent, VR denies it | VailDaily.com

Taft Conlin skier death lawsuit against Vail Resorts to begin June 11; family claims VR was negligent, VR denies it

EAGLE — More than 2,330 days from the day Taft Conlin died in an in-bounds avalanche on Vail Mountain, his family will finally have its days in court.

Conlin, who would have graduated Vail Mountain School last year, was 13 years old on Jan. 22, 2012, when he died in an avalanche on Prima Cornice on the front side of Vail Mountain.

A wrongful death lawsuit brought by Conlin's parents against Vail Resorts is scheduled to come to trial Monday, June 11, before District Court Judge Fred Gannett.

Local veterinarians Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Steve Conlin and their attorney, Jim Heckbert, claim Vail Resorts was negligent when the ski company failed to close both gates to the Prima Cornice run and keep skiers out of what they claim was a dangerous area.

Vail Resorts claims the run was closed and counters that Conlin was "negligent" and caused his own death.

"We have a very different view of the severity of the avalanche conditions," said Hugh Gottschalk, one of Vail Resorts' attorneys.

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A jury will decide whether Vail Resorts was negligent and, if so, whether that negligence caused Conlin's death.

"This is a terrible series of events that we are being asked to decide," Gannett said.

Gannett said he expects to call between 250 and 500 prospective jurors to seat the jury.

"I think we have smart and incisive jurors in Eagle County. They'll fight tooth and nail to keep from sitting in that box, but once they are there, they become dedicated finders of fact," Gannett said.

During the hearing on Monday, April 23, Ingalls sat at the table with Heckbert. Several of Ingalls' friends were in the gallery as a show of support.

Vail resorts' line in the snow?

On Sunday Jan. 22, 2012, around 1 p.m., Taft Conlin was on telemark skis when he and five young skiers decided to take advantage of an overnight storm during a largely dismal snow year.

They entered the lower Prima Cornice area through an open gate looking for fresh snow, according to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center report.

A rope blocked the gate at the top of the Prima Cornice run.

Several others had skied onto Prima Cornice that Sunday, after one of that winter's rare storms dropped new snow, the report said.

Three of those skiers sidestepped about 120 feet up the hill and to the south, the CAIC report said.

Those three were caught in a 300-foot-wide avalanche that slid 400 feet down the slope. Two dug themselves out and quickly skied to the bottom of Northwoods Express for help.

The avalanche carried Conlin through a spruce forest until he came to rest against a tree, upside down.

Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said Conlin was killed by blunt force trauma to his chest.

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

What the lawsuit is about

• Claim — In their lawsuit, Taft Conlin’s parents, local veterinarians Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Steve Conlin, claim that if Vail Resorts wanted to close any part of the run where their son was killed, Prima Cornice, all of the entrances should have been closed. They claim their son died because the company’s negligence created an “avalanche trap” that killed him.

• Response — Vail Resorts claims the run was closed and counters that Conlin was “negligent,” caused his own death and “such negligence was either the sole, or a contributing, cause.”

What the jury will decide

• Did Vail Resorts adhere to its duties under Colorado’s Skier Safety Act?

• If not, did that lead to Taft Conlin’s death?

• If it did, how much money should Conlin’s parents receive?

The trial is scheduled to begin June 11 and last for three weeks.