Family of Man Killed in Avalanche Pursue Legal Case Against Airbag Manufacturer

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The red lines mark the crown face of the two avalanches. The group of skiers triggered the slide on the right, and the slide on the left released sympathetically. Credit: CAIC

The family of a Colorado man killed in an avalanche near Silverton, CO two years ago is dropping the lawsuit against the guide and school, and the search and rescue team. They will continue to pursue the case against the manufacturer of the airbag he was wearing at the time for wrongful death, reports Jason Blevins with the Colorado Sun. The man’s wife and daughter originally accused Silverton Avalanche School, San Juan County Search and Rescue, and the named guide of a series of failures, fraud, misrepresentation, and negligence.

In January 2019, six backcountry skiers were on a course on Red Mountain Pass in Senator Beck Basin led by the Silverton Avalanche School. According to a report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the skiers triggered an avalanche while coming down, ‘sympathetically’ releasing a second avalanche that overran the debris pile of the first and caught everyone in the group.

One of the skiers was buried under at least eight feet of the debris from the avalanches and died. The Durango Herald identified him as Peter Marshall, 40, of Longmont. The group dug Marshall out from under the snow and attempted to revive him on site but were unsuccessful.

Backcountry Access is the manufacturer of the Float 32 avalanche airbag worn by Mr. Marshall at the time. The lawsuit alleges that despite Mr. Marshall’s attempts, the airbag did not inflate as expected. According to the CAIC report at the time, the airbag “was functioning properly, the trigger out of the pack strap, but the bag was not deployed.”

K2 Sports, the parent company of Backcountry Access, deny the allegations. They argue the air bag was not defective and Mr. Marshall’s death was the result of “voluntary acts and not caused by any act or omission” by the pack manufacturer. K2 Sports’ lawyers cite 16 facts they believe exonerate the company as they move to request the case is dismissed, Blevins reports.

Leading up to Mr. Marshall’s recreational Avalanche 2 course, considerable snow fell in the North San Juan Mountains during the fall and winter of 2018. In late November and early December, a series of storms built layers of wind-drifted snow over a weak and cohesionless foundation. These storms contributed to a significant increase in avalanche activity in the North San Juan zone. The CAIC documented 87 avalanches in this area between November 22, 2018, and December 15, 2018.

Red Mountain Pass, CO

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5 thoughts on “Family of Man Killed in Avalanche Pursue Legal Case Against Airbag Manufacturer

  1. Awful tragedy.

    But airbag deployment does not guarantee anything and airbags are not engineered to guarantee anything. One can still easily die after successful airbag inflation/use in an avalanche (and using one will probably statistically increase the likelihood of accidents as users fall into the common overconfidence traps discussed in every avalanche 101 class). Suing the manufacturer sounds like nonsense and could jam up an innovation that saves lives often enough.

  2. They wouldn’t give out the name of the guide for legal reasons because ultimately the company would be responsible for the guide’s actions, but agreed… even if you’re in an avalanche school and taking an AIARE course, it’s irresponsible to take clients into actual avalanche terrain to learn how to evaluate the snow pack – especially in December in Silverton where the snowpack is almost always guaranteed to be unstable to some extent.

  3. At no time in December should a ‘guide’ be taking clients above tree line to ski in the San Juan’s unless it’s low angle. What’s the guides name?

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