A federal judge awarded $1.95 million last month to the family of a young boy killed in a 2007 bear attack. The child, Samuel Ives, 11, was camping in American Fork Canyon with his mother, step-father and brother when he was ripped from his family’s tent and killed by a black bear on the night of June 17, 2007. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said the U.S. Forest Service was required to warn the family that a dangerous animal was on the loose in the canyon after reports that a bear had opened coolers and slashed through a tent in the area earlier that day.
Judge Kimball wrote in his order that the Ives family “proved by a preponderance of evidence” that the Forest Service owed them a duty “to warn them about the earlier incident, whether the warning was oral, by posting signs on the gate of Timpooneke Road 56, and/or by roping off the specific campsite.” Lawyers for the Forest Service claimed the government agency was immune from litigation and that it would be impossible to prove any action taken by the agency would have changed the outcome of the bear attack. During the trial, one of the Defense lawyers said there was no need for the Forest Service to warn of a black bear threat because there had never before been a fatal attack by a black bear in Utah. Nevertheless, Judge Kimball found the agency negligent in failing to warn of the danger.
Earlier in the day in question, a camper in the area called the Utah Highway Patrol and the Forest Service to report the earlier bear sighting. UHP officials alerted the Division of Wildlife Resources, which began searching for the bear, deeming it necessary to kill the animal. But the Forest Service employee who spoke with the camper failed to take action and did not notify anyone else of the sighting. The Ives family intended to spend the night in the Timpooneke campground, but did not have the $13 for the fee. Instead, they asked if they could camp up the road without paying. The Forest Service employee who spoke with Ives family about the campground fee testified in the non-jury trial that he would have notified the family of the danger if he had been aware of it. The parents said they filed the lawsuit “to prevent this from happening to anybody else.”
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