Plaintiff in Howelsen Hill skier death lawsuit again testifies for Colorado Senate Bill 23

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— Maureen Ryan, who is involved in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Steamboat Springs, again testified before the Colorado General Assembly in support of Senate Bill 23, which would increase the damages limits for governmental immunity cases.

This time, it was in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday after the bill passed its third reading in the state Senate on March 11.

Ryan sued the city following the death of her 19-year-old son, Cooper Larsh, who suffocated after crashing in deep snow near the Alpine Slide at Howelsen Hill. The city had its claim of governmental immunity waived by 14th Judicial District Judge Shelley Hill, but it has appealed the decision. The city has maintained that Larsh skied intentionally into an area of closed terrain.

Senate Bill 23 would increase the damages cap from $150,000 to $350,000 for tort suits against a government entity involving an individual. Damages for more than one individual would rise to $990,000, with no one person receiving more than $350,000.

Ryan’s testimony Thursday afternoon was largely similar to the testimony she gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 27; however, she went into more detail Thursday about her accusation that the city deliberately withheld information about the death of her son.

“We knew within a few weeks of Cooper’s death that the police investigation was compromised,” Ryan said.

The Steamboat Today recently obtained emails showing that despite Ryan’s urgings, former Steamboat Springs Police Department Detective Nick Bosick failed to contact a skier who had found himself in the same area where Larsh died just hours earlier.

Ryan said Thursday that then-District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham was alerted to inconsistencies in the case by Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett. Oldham expressed concern about the investigation, Ryan said, but nothing came of it.

“The facts as described were contradicted by the city’s own documentation,” Ryan said. “At that point, I realized I would have to sue the city to find out the truth about Cooper’s death.”

It wasn’t until she filled a Colorado Open Records Act request, Ryan said, that she found out the Howelsen Hill accident report was contradicted.

As in her earlier testimony, Ryan said that even if she eventually wins her suit, it likely will be a pyrrhic victory.

“If I’m awarded $150,00 for my 19-year-old son’s death, it’s already spent,” she said about the costs of bringing a suit against a government entity. If the bill passes, any changes to the damages caps would only affect cases brought on or after July 1.

Ryan called the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act a looping, legal maze that has tortuous effects for plaintiffs.

“It's really actually unbelievable how little the facts matter in a CGIA case,” she said.

Ryan told the members of the House Judiciary Committee that she hopes the legislature eventually will take an approach to reforming governmental immunity.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

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