Judge awards $1.9M to family of boy killed by bear
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah federal judge on Tuesday awarded nearly $2 million to the family of an 11-year-old boy killed by a bear at a campsite in 2007.
The family of Samuel Ives sued the U.S. Forest Service for failing to close the American Fork Canyon campsite in the mountains about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City after the bear attacked another camper.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said the forest service had a “duty” to warn the Ives family of the earlier attack either verbally, by posting signs on a gate leading in the area or by roping off the specific campsite.
The Pleasant Grove boy died on June 17, 2007 — Father’s Day — after a bear ripped through his tent and dragged him away. Ives’ mauled body was found about 400 yards from the campsite.
The bear had caused problems in the same area 12 hours earlier, ripping through another tent and rummaging through coolers. Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources had dubbed it a “level 3” nuisance bear — considered the most dangerous — and crews set out to find it and kill it. The bear was only successfully trapped and killed after Ives’ death.
Kimball said it was “foreseeable” that the bear would return to a campsite where it had earlier attacked campers and found food. The judge also said an off-duty forest service employee was negligent in failing to contact others in the agency that could have determined whether the campsite should be closed.
A forest service employee who discussed campground fees with the family did not tell them about the first attack.
In a February trial, however, attorneys for the government argued that no warnings were necessary because Utah had not previously seen a fatal attack by a black bear.
In an email to The Associated Press Tuesday, Utah’s U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said the government is reviewing the ruling in consultation with the Department of Justice and would weigh its options.
Kimball said a “fair award” to the Ives’ family could be as much as $3 million, an amount awarded to other families in wrongful death lawsuits. But the judge only assigned 65 percent of the fault for the attack to the forest service and ordered a judgment of $1.95 million.
The judge said Utah’s DWR should shoulder some responsibility for failing to contact the forest service about its search for the bear. Kimball also said Ives’ family — and the boy himself — was at fault because they failed to remove food wrappers and trash from their tent.
Sharon Ives, the boy’s grandmother, said the family is pleased with the judge’s ruling but said their main purpose in bringing the lawsuit was to force state and federal agencies to change their policies related to bear attacks and sightings.
“We just wanted to make a difference and we feel like we did,” Sharon Ives said. “It won’t bring Sam back, but at least maybe there is something good that can come from it. If we save one person’s life, it’s worth the effort.”
Ives’ family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the DWR in state court.