The City of Steamboat Springs, owner of Howelsen Hill ski area, has settled the wrongful death case brought by Maureen Ryan, the mother of Cooper Larsh. Larsh died on Marsh 17, 2011 from snow immersion suffocation in the Alpine slide area of Howelsen Hill after entering an area that the City had failed to mark as out of bounds. The City had argued that the area was closed to skiers and was indicated as such. Ryan and her attorneys, Jim Chalat and Evan Banker of Chalat Hatten Koupal & Banker, argued that the area at the top of the Alpine slide was not marked well enough, resulting in Larsh entering the dangerous terrain.
To prevail in the case, Ryan had to successfully defeat the City’s claim of government immunity. After a two day hearing on the issue, District Judge Shelley Hill issued an order denying the city of Steamboat Springs’ request to dismiss the claim. An attorney for the city argued that the case should be dismissed because the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act protects government entities from cases that “lie in tort or could lie in tort.”
But Judge Hill wrote that the conditions that lead to Larsh’s death constituted a “dangerous condition” that waives the city’s immunity. Six months after the ruling, the attorneys for Steamboat Springs finally capitulated. Sadly, even after a finding of no immunity the caps on damages from a government entity limited the settlement to $150,000. Ryan, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado College of Law, testified last year before the Colorado General Assembly in support of a bill that raised the damages limits to $350,000, but the increased cap only applies to more recent cases. Read the Steamboat Pilot report of the settlement.