Utah Judge to Rule on Bear Attack Liability
Fourth District Judge Gary Stott in Provo, Utah, said Tuesday (Jan. 13) he would quickly decide if the state of Utah is liable for a 2007 bear attack that killed an 11-year-old Pleasant Grove boy.
Stott said he will issue a written opinion after reviewing arguments from the state and the family of Sam Ives on whether to drop the family's suit against the Utah Division of Wildlife Services, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sam's mother, Rebecca Ives; her husband, Tim Mulvey; and Kevan Francis, Sam's natural father, are suing the federal government and the state for the attack. Sam was asleep in a tent with his mother, stepfather and half brother on June 17, 2007, when the bear pulled him out of the tent and killed him.
They seek $2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and $550,000 from the state.
The family argued the state had a duty to stop people from using the campground until the black bear that had ravaged the same site earlier that day had been destroyed.
Allen K. Young, the family's attorney, said state wildlife agents knew the bear was in the area, but cut short a search and did nothing to warn anyone of the possible danger – nor stop the Iveses from using the campground.
"The facts in this case show that state and federal agents waved at the Ives family as they drove past to camp (on the site of the bear attack)," Young said.
But Assistant Attorney General Reed Stringham said the state's immunity statute shields the state and its employees from liability. That statute applies because cordoning off the area required some deliberation. Stringham said the state would have needed to decide how large an area to close off because of the bear – something that can't be done on the fly.
"If they had made it too narrow and someone got attacked, we would be sued because it was not broad enough," Stringham said.
But Young said this was an emergency, and deliberation was unnecessary. State policy is clear, he said: The state must remove anything that will attract a dangerous bear from an area until the threat is eliminated. In this case, that meant keeping the Ives off the campsite.
"We're talking about restricting people from a 100-foot area for 24 hours," Young said. "This was an emergent situation."
The boy was sleeping in one section of the family’s large tent in American Fork Canyon, located about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. He screamed before he was dragged away in his sleeping bag, according to an Associated Press account. The boy’s body was found about 400 yards from the tent, in the direction of another campsite where a bear sighting had been reported earlier in the weekend