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Injury & Accident Law

Ruling: State Can Be Sued Over Fatal Bear Attack at Campground

Posted Nov 24, 2010 2:03 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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A Utah woman whose child was killed by a bear while they were camping near American Fork Canyon in 2007 can sue the state for not warning her family about a bear attack that took place earlier that day.

Eleven-year-old Sam Ives was pulled from his tent by a bear and mauled to death at the same campsite a bear had ravaged earlier that day, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article.

Previously, the Utah 4th District Court found that the state was protected from liability based on the Government Immunity Act. The Utah Supreme Court overturned that ruling Tuesday

The campground on which the attack occurred is on U.S. Forest Service land, and the court found the Forest Service is responsible for issuing camping permits and closing the campground, the state supreme court found. However, it ruled that to use the Government Immunity Act as a defense, as the state of Utah did, the agency in question must have the authority to make the decision.

The state on appeal also raised immunity defenses based on arguments that it could not be held liable for how wild bears behave, and that it does not have a duty to protect people from dangerous wildlife.

The Utah Supreme Court did not address those issues because they were not raised at the state district court level, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The opinion (PDF) sends the case back to the 4th District.

The boy's family also is pursuing a $2 million negligence suit against the U.S. Forest Service in federal court.

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