Judge Considers $2 Million Award in Bear Attack

February 14, 2011

A federal judge in Salt Lake City, Utah, is considering whether to award $2 million to the family of an 11-year-old Pleasant Grove boy killed by a bear at an American Fork Canyon campsite in 2007.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball took the case under advisement after a five-day trial, the Deseret News reported. His ruling could take months.

During the trial, lawyers for Samuel Ives’ family argued the U.S. Forest Service was negligent for failing to close the campground after a bear confronted another camper there earlier in the day. They say the agency should have closed the site until the bear was killed.

“This is a simple case of duties, of breaches of those duties and the harm caused by the breach of those duties,” said Allen Young, an attorney for the family.

But attorneys for the Forest Service maintained there was no way to definitively know whether Samuel was killed by the same bear involved in the earlier incident.

“The plaintiffs have undeniably suffered a tragic loss in their lives, but the United States is not responsible for that loss,” said Jeffrey Nelson, an attorney for the Forest Service.

Whether it was the same bear was not the point, Young countered, because the family never would have gone to the campground had it known there was a bear threat.

Young said former Forest Service employee Carolyn Gosse received a phone call about the earlier incident from an emergency dispatcher and failed to report it to anyone, including her supervisor. He quoted Gosse’s termination letter, which said she “denied (her superiors) the opportunity to provide notice.”

Nelson said such a fatality had never happened before, and the Forest Service had no way of knowing it was a possibility. He pointed out that Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials searched the area for five hours and didn’t feel there was a significant risk to warrant closing the campground.

“There was no duty by the Forest Service to action against an unforeseeable possibility which had never before occurred,” Nelson said. “If the Forest Service is tasked with protecting against every danger that could occur, we would have to close the entire forest.”

The family is seeking from $2 million to $3 million in damages.

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