On Tuesday of this week a federal judge awarded nearly $2 million to the family of Samuel Ives, an 11-year-old boy killed in 2007 by a black bear in the American Fork Canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah. The boy was dragged from his tent and mauled by a bear on the night of June 17, 2007.
Ives’s mother and stepfather contend that their son was killed due to negligence on the part of the U.S. Forest Service. The bear that killed Sam had attacked another man 12 hours prior at the same campsite where Ives and his family were staying. According to the lawsuit, Forest officials searched for the bear after its first attack, but were unable to find it. Unfortunately they failed to issue a warning to other campers staying at the same campground.
The U.S. District Judge found that both federal and state government agencies, including the Forest Service, were liable for Ives’s death. The judge found the Forest Service to be 65% at fault for failing to warn the public about the potential safety risks of camping in the area. The Division of Wildlife Resources was found to be at 25% fault for its lack of communication with the Forest Service, and the family was deemed to be 10% at fault for leaving food wrappers and trash in their tent.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the Forest Service was negligent to the tune of $2 million dollars? If these are punitive damages, who do they punish? Ultimately it is we tax payers who will be writing this check. Moreover, does this set a precedent where any accident, or anything that could potentially go wrong, become the focus of a lawsuit aimed towards national and state parks? Just as one example - does this mean that if there's snow on the ground, or if it's raining, that park rangers have a duty to warn all hikers that trails might be slippery?