SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge ruled Tuesday that the federal government was largely responsible for a 2007 bear attack that resulted in the death of an 11-year-old boy and awarded his family nearly $2 million in damages.
Attorney Tyler Young said that the judge determined that the federal government was 65 percent responsible for the death of Samuel Ives, and consequently awarded Ives’s parents — Kevan Francis and Rebecca Ives — $1.95 million. Judge Dale Kimball also determined that the state government was 25 percent responsible, and the boy’s family was 10 percent responsible. Young said the ruling had no bearing on a separate lawsuit against the state government.
The lawsuit was brought against the federal government and the U.S. Forest Service after a cinnamon-colored black bear dragged Ives out of his tent and killed him during a family camping trip in 2007. Ives’s family had gone to American Fork Canyon for Father’s Day, and contended that government personnel failed to warn them that a dangerous bear was prowling the area.
The bear that killed Ives was tracked and killed shortly after the attack.
The lawsuit was argued in court during a week-long bench trial in February. During the trial, government lawyers argued that posted signs adequately warned the family of the potential dangers of bears. They also pointed out that Ives had brought a granola bar and Coke Zero into his tent, though Rebecca Ives testified during the trial that she didn’t know there was food nearby.
But Judge Kimball’s ruling describes government employees as negligent, saying specifically that United States Forest Service law enforcement officer Carolyn Gosse failed to follow regulations and inform Ives’s family about a potential threat. Gosse was notified on the day Ives died that another camper visiting the area had been attacked by a bear earlier that morning. Judge Kimball attributes Ives’s death in part to Gosse’s failure to properly respond.
“Plaintiffs have proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant’s breaches were a cause of Sam Ives’ death and the Plaintiffs’ damages,” Judge Kimball wrote.
Gosse later resigned from the Forest Service, but Judge Kimball nonetheless determined that the government bore responsibility for Ives’s death. In his ruling, Judge Kimball wrote that based on other cases, a fair reward would be $3 million. However, because the government was only 65 percent responsible, the ruling stipulates that it must pay only 65 percent of that sum, or $1,950,000. Francis and Rebecca Ives were seeking $2 million in the lawsuit.
Ives and Francis’s attorney Allen Young said he was pleased with the ruling. He explained that the government has the option to appeal, though he hopes that they do not. He added that Ives and Francis also were happy with the outcome.
“We’re elated with the decision,” he said. “I talked to Rebecca and I talked to Tim and they’re both very, very pleased with the judge and his ruling.”