City of Steamboat appeal denied in Howelsen Hill skier death case

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— The Colorado Court of Appeals has decided that the city of Steamboat Springs waived its governmental immunity in the 2011 death of Cooper Larsh on Howelsen Hill.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed 14th Judicial District Court Judge Shelley Hill’s ruling in January 2013, holding that the area at the top of the Alpine Slide where Larsh is thought to have skied through constitutes a “dangerous condition” that waives the city’s immunity from tort lawsuits.

Maureen Ryan, Larsh’s mother, filed the wrongful death lawsuit against the city in late 2011 but first had to clear the hurdle of governmental immunity before the suit could move forward.

The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act shields municipal governments from tort suits and caps the damages that may be awarded to plaintiffs even in the event they win.

Despite a 2013 bill increasing the damages cap to $350,000 for an individual, Ryan’s case still is limited to the previous cap of $150,000 because of when it initially was filed.

“The city’s position here has been firm that they will not pay the $150,000 cap,” said Ryan’s attorney, Evan Banker, of Chalat, Hatten, Koupal and Banker. “Two courts have now said they don't have immunity.”

Banker said the city has taken a “tortuous” approach to the case and that he thought it was more likely that the city would appeal the immunity decision to the Colorado Supreme Court rather than let the tort suit move forward.

The city has 42 days to appeal the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The city’s counsel — Kyle Brenton and Jordan Lipp, of Davis Graham & Stubbs — could not be reached for comment.

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

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