Fathers of 2 Mt. Bachelor tree well victims sue resort for $30 million
Skier, snowboarder suffocated on the same day in March 2018
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The fathers of a skier and snowboarder who died on the same day nearly two years ago after falling into tree wells and suffocating on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor have filed a joint wrongful death lawsuit seeking a total of $30 million from the Central Oregon resort.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Deschutes County Circuit Court, alleges several aspects of negligence by the resort led to the March 2, 2018 deaths of snowboarder Alfonso Braun, 24, of Bend and Nicole Panet-Raymond, 19, of Eugene, in separate incidents.
The lawsuit, naming Mt. Bachelor and its parent company Powdr Corp. as defendants, says both victims were inside the resort's boundaries and suffocated after falling into hidden and unbarricaded tree wells.
It notes "a substantial amount of snow" had fallen at the resort in the three weeks before the pair died, leading to the tree wells' development, and claims the resort "knew or should have known of the danger" they posed and have done more to monitor and warn of those risks, to prevent such tragedies.
In each death, the lawsuit claims 11 factors of negligence, including failing to limit or mark the areas when hazards from tree wells were present, and failing to inspect for and monitor tree wells for the risks they pose.
It also alleges that Mt. Bachelor failed to adequately educate and inform visitors about tree wells and how to avoid the dangers they present, or to employ enough trained and equipped personnel to monitor those areas.
The combined lawsuit, filed by Portland attorney Daniel Dziuba, seeks $10 million in non-economic damages and $5 million in economic losses on behalf of each victim's father.
Asked for a comment, Mt. Bachelor provided NewsChannel 21 the following statement from resort President and General Manager John McLeod:
“These type of incidents caused by hazards naturally present in the mountain environment are thankfully rare. Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the affected families and friends.
“The safety of our employees and guests is our number one priority. For information about tree wells and safe skiing in the trees, please visit: http://www.deepsnowsafety.org/. To learn about industry skiing and snowboarding safety and statistics, visit http://www.nsaa.org/press/industry-stats/.”
Panet-Raymond was a sophomore at the University of Oregon, but originally was from Portland and had been skiing since she was 3. Braun was an only child and was engaged to be married, according to Dziuba.
Shortly after the stunning double-tragedy, a resort spokesman said they would continue safety education efforts and look for ways to improve communication to guests about the dangers of tree wells and risks of suffocating in them.
Dziuba said late Friday the two fathers, acting on behalf of their children's estates, had approached him about filing the lawsuit.
"There's a lot of literature from 2005-2015 that talks about the hazards" of tree wells, the attorney said, "and that they're not-well-known to patrons," compared to the risk of avalanches.
Dziuba also pointed to a 2014 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that said teen snowboarder Myles Bagley, paralyzed from the waist down in a jump at the Mt. Bachelor terrain park, did not lose his rights to sue the resort by signing a blanket liability waiver. The court called such disclaimers "unconscionable."
The following year, the attorney noted, the industry tried to get state lawmakers to pass a law giving them immunity in the event of tree well deaths, but were not successful.
Asked about filing a joint lawsuit, Dziuba said Oregon court procedures allow combined civil lawsuits if they involve a common occurrence under similar conditions, and that the same or similar facts and laws apply. If tried separately, there's also the risk of inconsistent rulings, he said.
With a great deal of common evidence, Dziuba said there would be "considerable duplication" in separate trials, "which is a waste of judicial time," as well as witnesses having to testify twice and "added disruption in people's lives and expense."
The attorney said while the victims did not know each other and were not recreating on the same area of the mountain, both fathers have the same goal, which he said is not purely monetary.
"The whole point of this case is, both of these parents want this never to happen again," Dziuba said. "That's the motivating factor. Nobody would go through a lawsuit like this if that weren't the goal."