Colorado Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments in Howelsen Hill skier death case

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— The case stemming from Cooper Larsh’s death at Howelsen Hill in 2011 has reached the oral argument stage at the Colorado Court of Appeals.

On Jan. 22, 2014, the court will hear 15-minute arguments from attorneys for Maureen Ryan, Larsh’s mother, and counsel for the city of Steamboat Springs, which owns and operates Howelsen Hill Ski Area.

Ryan filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Steamboat Springs in late 2011. In January, 14th Judicial District Court Judge Shelley Hill denied the city of Steamboat Springs’ motion to dismiss the case under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.

The city decided to appeal that decision in February.

Because Howelsen Hill is owned by the city of Steamboat Springs, it falls under the state’s protections for government entities. The Governmental Immunity Act shields public entities from tort lawsuits while allowing certain waivers of the act. Even if a waiver is granted and a government entity is found liable in a tort case, the act caps the potential damages a plaintiff might be awarded at $150,000.

Larsh was skiing March 17, 2011, at Howelsen Hill when he apparently dropped off a retaining wall, double-ejected from his skis and suffocated after falling headfirst into the snow near the alpine slide.

Ryan’s attorneys have argued that the area where the alpine slide is located was not properly marked as closed, which constitutes a dangerous condition that waives governmental immunity for the ski area.

The city of Steamboat Springs is appealing Hill’s ruling and argues that the lack of a rope across the top of the alpine slide area does not waive governmental immunity.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area is among the few municipal ski hills in the state, making it a rare case where the Governmental Immunity Act applies in addition to the Ski Safety Act.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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