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Greedy Trial Lawyer

The National Park Service Is Not Mother Nature

December 12, 2005

By Greedy Trial Lawyer

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Category: The Latest Baddest

National Parks are, by definition I suppose, part of Mother Nature. But, does that mean that a very careless act of the federal government that kills a climber is protected from civil liability? I disagree with the decision of a federal judge who dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a young rock climber killed in a 1999 slide in Yosemite Valley. The federal judge apparently bought the defendant's idea that the case amounted to suing Mother Nature. I say our government killed a young man by its negligence.

The family of the rock climber contended that the Park Service maintained a leaking water system at the top of Glacier Point which caused frequent rock slides, that the Service was aware of the problem and failed to warn visitors of the danger. Seems like a perfectly good reason to permit a jury to decide if the government's conduct caused the death.

The Seattle Times article has more of the facts.

In a largely technical decision, the U.S. District Court judge in Fresno, Calif., ruled that Yosemite National Park officials were acting within their discretionary duties when they didn't post warnings at the base of Glacier Point, site of the rock fall that killed 21-year-old Peter Terbush.

His family launched a legal fight after learning of a geologist's theory that a leaking bathroom water system atop Glacier Point artificially lubricated the cliff face, unleashing a flurry of rock slides in the months before the tragedy. They argued the park negligently created the rock-fall danger, then failed to warn visitors.

Park officials argued that rock falls are an unpredictable part of the natural environment in Yosemite Valley, which was created over eons by glaciers and frequent rock falls. Litigating the tragedy, they said, was like suing Mother Nature.

Dugan Barr, attorney for the Terbush family, said he was disappointed but expected to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

"The thing that's galling about this is it's really clear the park knew about the danger," Barr said, noting that park officials briefly closed off the same area after a slide just weeks before Terbush was killed.

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