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Family Sues After Avalanche Causes Man’s Death

— January 20, 2021

Wife and daughter of man who died in avalanche file a lawsuit against multiple parties.

The wife and daughter of a deceased Longmont resident, Peter Marshall, 40, has filed a 68-page wrongful death lawsuit after the man’s life was taken by an avalanche.  The suit alleges Silverton Avalanche School, San Juan County Search and Rescue and guide Zachary Lovell committed “fraud, misrepresentation, negligence and consumer protection law violations” related to his death January 5, 2019.

The man’s family also claims Backcountry Access made a defective Float 32 avalanche airbag, which did not inflate after Marshall “attempted to trigger the balloon-like backpack.”  The Colorado Avalanche Information Center incident report noted “Marshall’s airbag backpack was functioning properly, the trigger out of the pack strap, but the bag was not deployed.”

In addition to the other named defendants, the suit is also directed at Kohlberg & Company, a private equity company that acquired Backcountry Access in 2017.

Family Sues After Avalanche Causes Man's Death
Photo by Quenten Janssen on Unsplash

“The defendants, each of them, acted willfully, wantonly, and recklessly, without regard for the consequences or the rights and safety of Peter Marshall or of others,” reads the lawsuit, which continues, “The school, guide and airbag maker created substantial and unreasonable risks of serious injury and death to participants” in the safety class.  Defendants were grossly negligent, and that gross negligence was a cause of the injuries, damages, and losses suffered by plaintiffs and the heirs of Peter Marshall.”

After its investigation into the matter, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported Marshall’s death was the first avalanche fatality of the 2018-2019 season and the first ever of a student at the Silverton Avalanche School.  Its conclusive report, drafted after site visits and interviews with staff, students and volunteers, noted the three most critical mistakes that caused the fatality included the fact that the deceased man’s group should not have been skiing on a slop steep enough to avalanche, this steepness was misjudged, and potential conditions for avalanches on nearby slopes were overlooked.  It took a total of 50 minutes for the group to uncover Marshall’s body.

Roughly two weeks prior to the tragedy, there were 72 avalanches in the area and the day it occurred, according to the suit, Silverton Avalanche School instructors “agreed not to travel in avalanche terrain that weekend with the Level 2 students.”  During those discussions, school staff “expressed concern that defendant Lovell seemed inclined to travel in more complex and bigger terrain despite the fragile snowpack and concerning avalanche conditions.”

Jim Moss, a recreation law attorney said he believed Marshall signed waivers releasing Silverton Avalanche School from liability in case of an accident. “The allegations of fraud – that the school and guide duped Marshall into signing up for the class by, for example, falsely presenting that instructors possessed deep operational experience in avalanche terrain – work around the waivers,” Moss said. “This will be a battle of avalanche experts and it will come down to which experts impress the jury.  These guys put a lot of avalanche stuff in there.”

Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, commented, “I think these legal proceedings are really between other parties and don’t really involve us, even though they do rely on some of the work we do.  I’m not sure what we can do to avoid that.  My hope is that people do not shy away from sharing information with us or other people.  Our role is to help people better understand avalanches.”


Wrongful death lawsuit targets Silverton Avalanche School

Wrongful death lawsuit targets Silverton Avalanche School, guide, airbag maker

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