Colorado Supreme Court Denies Appeal in Lawsuit Against Vail Resorts for Inbounds Avalanche Death

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Dr. Louise Ingalls looks over photographs of her son, Taft Conlin, in Taft’s room at her home in Eagle. Credit: Vail Daily

The family who lost their son to an inbounds avalanche at Vail Resort, CO, have been denied an appeal by the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Sun reports.

The decision ends their almost 10-year fight after losing the initial court case in 2018 and subsequent appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2020.

Ingalls and Conlin filed their original case in 2012, months after their 13-year-old son was killed in an in-bounds avalanche on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, while skiing Prima Cornice. On that day, Taft Conlin and four other skiers entered the open lower gate of Prima Cornice at Vail Resort. The upper gate to the run had been roped off due to avalanche danger. According to the official Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) report, the five skiers entered the lower gate, Taft and two other skiers sidestepped up about 120 feet up towards the top gate while the other two skiers in the group skied down. The R3D2 avalanche released on old-faceted snow, and instantly, all three were caught. Two skiers were swept downhill but thankfully not buried by debris. Unfortunately, Taft was pushed downhill and came to rest against a large spruce tree partially buried-critical with both skis and one arm above the surface.

Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Steve Conlin, parents of Taft Conlin, based their appeal on the claims that judges erred in several rulings. According to the Vail Daily, their appeal said the courts were wrong on five overarching issues:

  1. Change of venue order, moving the trial from Broomfield to Eagle County.
  2. Pretrial orders by District Court Judge Fred Gannett.
  3. Rulings during the trial before the jury.
  4. Erroneous jury instructions.
  5. Erroneous verdict form that resulted in a defense verdict.
Taft Conlin died on the Prima Cornice run at Vail Ski Resort (Andy Cross, The Denver Post file)

A large part of the original outcome hinged on the statement of a Vail patroller, who claimed that resort officials were unaware of anyone ever going through the Prima Cornice gate and hiking up, a statement that was later debunked by an ex-patroller in an open letter.

Ingall and Conlin’s appeal asserted that the ski company did not notify the public that by closing the upper gate, it intended to close that part of Prima Cornice between the two gates. Through their attorney, Jim Heckbert, with the Denver firm Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, Ingalls and Conlin also say Gannett erred when he allowed evidence during the trial that they say was “misleading, inadmissible or irrelevant.” They also say Gannett erred when he “improperly excluded evidence” and when they were denied a request for a different judge.

Vail Resorts will still seek to recover the costs of the original trial from the family. Vail Resorts says its costs to defend the case were an “approximated $1 million.” Of that, Vail Resorts says its recoverable costs total $173,295.63. Traditionally in Colorado, the losing party pays some of the prevailing party’s costs in a civil lawsuit.

“In light of plaintiff’s pursuit of an appeal, our filing is simply a preservation of our rights as the prevailing party to seek reasonable court costs. We remain hopeful for a quick appellate process and ultimate closure of the case,” Vail Resort said in a statement.

In their request, the ski company says the case was long and complex and included 40 depositions, as well as expert witnesses. The ski company is asking Eagle County District Court to order the payment.

prima cornice, vail resorts, vail resort, Colorado, Taft Conlin
The location of the fatal avalanche.

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