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Fathers of 2 Mt. Bachelor tree well victims sue resort for $30 million

Nicole Panet-Raymond Alfonso Braun
Family photos
Nicole Panet-Raymond, Alfonso Braun, died in Mt. Bachelor tree wells in March 2018

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."

Author Profile Photo

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Comments

32 Comments

  1. It is so very sad what happened to those two young people so much life yet to live. I hope the families can one day come to peace. Many thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately, personally I can’t see fault or negligence from Bachelor. I just hope the parents can soon move on, I can’t imagine the terrible pain of losing a child.

  2. Chicken hawks like these fathers make me sick.
    Everyone knows the dangers associated with snowboarding/skiing and bachelor posts a TON of literature about tree wells.
    This is nothing but opportunism.

    1. You are right about one thing in your comments, Epstein did NOT kill himself. Info re: tree wells, not so. AFTER something happens maybe.

  3. Wow, what a money grab. You blame Mt Bachelor that they “could of” have done X or “should have” known Y, well, if your kid had been snowboarding since he was 3, then he should have known all these supposed dangerous issues. And how can you claim economic damage?? Your kid did not support you or anyone else but themselves so you cannot claim economic damage. Another case of no personal responsibility.

  4. Both terrible accidents, but accidents do happen. To expect the resort to mark and maintain every potentially dangerous tree well is ludicrous. I hope these lawsuits are thrown out the door.

  5. My heart goes out to the families. Any loss of a child makes a parent want to lash out. And that is exactly what these fathers are doing. The resort is not at fault here. Mother nature creates these tree wells, NOT the resort. It is common knowledge about the dangers of tree wells. I have never skied or did snowboarding in my life but even I know about the dangers of tree wells and the steps to take to avoid them.

  6. A disgusting set of lawsuits set up strictly for money. Outdoor activities such as skiing, have inherent risks associated with them, even if done in the confines of a “resort” and most outdoor enthusiasts understand that. Bachelor, along with every other ski resort in America is supposed to mark every tree? Sorry but that is not logical. Skiers, especially ones that have skied as long as these two had, know that every tree has a tree well and poses a risk. If I was one of the victims, I would be ashamed at my family for trying to profit off my loss. This is a symptom of our victim hood mentality. Just because something went wrong, does not mean anyone was at fault.

  7. I wonder if they realize that they will only get to keep about 10% of any lawsuit proceeds after taxes and lawyers fees while the lawyer will get about 25-30% after taxes?

        1. that’s why their asking for 30….to cover the expenses including taxes. People and lawyers don’t sit for two years doing the math and not have a solid plan to throw in front of a liberal oregon judge. Bachelor should hire huge money teams and file a change of venue. Happened on public land…get it into federal court

          1. Goggle how may lawsuits on leased Federal/public land have been at the Federal Court level. Quite a few. Many ski resorts have lost in that venue as well.

          1. All income is taxed. If they are going after my boss and me for me getting a 50.00 bonus and not paying taxes they aren’t going to let this go….

            1. If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in prior years, the full amount is non-taxable. Do not include the settlement proceeds in your income.

  8. I am sorry these two people died, but they chose to ski and with that comes exposure to the sport’s hazards. I hope the lawsuit gets tossed or that the fathers and their hearse-chasing lawyer lose in court and have to pay Mount Bachelor’s attorney’s fees.

  9. “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.”

    So if the point of this lawsuit is to prevent this type of thing from happening again. Let the lawsuit proceed, if any monetary amount is rewarded then that amount is put into a trust. If the resort doesnt have another tree well death in a prescribed period of time then the award goes back to the resort. But we all know that isnt the whole point is it ?

  10. While these two tragic losses are absolutely heartbreaking, suing a company for not marking every tree on their mountain as a potential hazard is not the answer.

  11. The only three certain methods to address the tree well hazard are:

    Cut down all the trees on the entire mountain.
    Fence off all the downhill runs so everyone is restricted from going anywhere near every tree.
    Or close the resort to downhill activities entirely.

    Otherwise there will always be risk. This lawsuit is nothing more than a money grab and I hope the plaintiffs don’t get a single dime.

  12. Experienced riders make risk assessments of potential dangers. These two young people made the choise to go into trees with deep new snow. This tragic event represents the dangers involved in Alpine sports. Hopefully others in the sport will consider their choises more carefully.

  13. This is where tort reform needs to happen – the folks sueing the resort AND their attorneys should have to pay for all defense costs if they lose this case.

  14. The lawsuit claims the resort “knew or should have known of the danger” the tree wells posed and have done more to monitor and warn of those risks, to prevent such tragedies. Looking at it from the other side, the resort could claim the skiers “knew or should have known of the danger” the tree wells posed.

  15. I feel for the families and friends, but I sincerely hope these lawsuits are thrown out. Some of the best times of my life have been spent out in the trees NW, alone. Yes, it would have been safer to stick to the groomers, but no friends on a powder day, just how it is.

  16. Simple solution, remove all of the trees, would also reduce fire danger in the summer, despicable lawyers, drudging up the heartbreaking sorrow of these family’s, for their own personal gain.

  17. I can only imagine how devastated I would be if this happened to our son, and I certainly
    wouldn’t wish this on any parent. That said, any of us that are involved in outdoor activities know there is some amount of risk, and some more so than others, but it’s a chance we take because we enjoy those activities…
    There is only so much a company can do to reduce those risks and if they aren’t negligent, they should not be punished because of an accident that wasn’t their fault… Personal accountability went out the window years ago, and a portion of society doesn’t have a problem suing when they see easy money. For some it’s a lifestyle that supplements any other income they might have, and in some cases they also try and scam for disability and other social services. A big part of the credit goes to the never ending supply of ambulance chaser attorneys that encourage people to sue, especially if there are deep pockets involved. These attorneys know that even if the company wasn’t liable, there is a chance that they will settle because it’s cheaper than taking a chance going to trial.
    The system is seriously screwed up…

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