Judge sides with feds in rejecting wrongful death suit over fatal bear mauling near Yellowstone

2012-10-25T12:39:00Z 2012-10-26T08:13:10Z Judge sides with feds in rejecting wrongful death suit over fatal bear mauling near YellowstoneBy RUFFIN PREVOST YellowstoneGate.com The Billings Gazette
October 25, 2012 12:39 pm  • 

Citing a Wyoming law that protects landowners who allow outdoor recreation on their land, a federal judge has ruled against a woman who filed a wrongful-death suit that blamed federal researchers after her husband was killed by a grizzly bear that had been tranquilized and released near the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne issued a summary judgment in the civil case Tuesday. Freudenthal said she dismissed the case based upon Wyoming’s Recreational Use Act, a state law that releases landowners from liability or obligations to warn nonpaying recreation users in relation to potentially dangerous activities.

Erwin Evert, owner of a summer cabin in the Shoshone National Forest, had hiked along a trail near Kitty Creek on the afternoon of June 17, 2010. The 70-year-old botanist was mauled to death by an adult male grizzly bear that had just hours before been snared, tranquilized, collared and released by researchers with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

Yolanda Evert sued the federal government, arguing that her husband died after hiking into an area where warning signs had been prematurely removed by study team members supervised by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Federal attorneys said researchers pulled the warning signs on the last day of their work after figuring that no one would be hiking in the remote area off the main trail during high winds and bad weather.

The case hinged on whether it should have been “obvious” to researchers that someone would have been hiking in the area, and whether they had a duty to warn hikers based on Wyoming’s Recreational Use Act.

Evert’s attorneys had argued that the study team had “willfully and negligently created a dangerous hazard by baiting, trapping and releasing” a grizzly bear less than a mile from cabins and near a trail, and that researchers failed to properly notify and warn cabin owners and the public.

Since the mauling, differing accounts emerged about how much Evert may have known about trapping efforts around the site where he was killed.

At least one of Evert’s friends said the botanist knew about dangerous bears and trapping efforts in the area, but his wife and daughter have said Evert didn’t know about trapping at the specific site where he was attacked.

Court documents and other sources confirm that Evert knew there was trapping in the general area.

Freudenthal cited the extended presence of additional warning signs along the main access trail leading to the incident cite in determining that “it was not obvious to the government that a hiker would intentionally follow their tracks” to the site where the bear was released.

Wildlife officials, uncertain whether the bear’s aggression toward Evert was natural or aberrant, tried without success to recapture it, and shot it dead from a helicopter two days after the mauling.

Researchers studying grizzly bears previously did not publicize their trapping operations. But officials changed that policy after Evert’s death and now send advance notices to regional media outlets.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team was established in 1973 to collaboratively monitor and manage bears across state and jurisdictional boundaries. The group’s work to gather data on protected bears is part of a long-term research effort required under the Endangered Species Act to help wildlife managers guide agency efforts to assist in the recovery of regional grizzly bear populations.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or ruffin@yellowstonegate.com.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. billmillerjr
    Report Abuse
    billmillerjr - October 27, 2012 5:33 am
    All the foolish comments are funny------If anyone is anywhere even near jellystone parque, there are grizzlies there---almost anywhere in wyoming and montanner in the hills the grizz are there--So who's fault is it when a person gets et up? yes---the person
  2. ReadySetGo
    Report Abuse
    ReadySetGo - October 26, 2012 7:29 am
    I agree ruby. Amazing the lawsuits in this world. Maybe Obama can sue and win?
  3. 5thg
    Report Abuse
    5thg - October 26, 2012 6:33 am
    The Feds still have an obligation to warn people about the grizzly they had just finished injecting with enough drugs to knock it senseless. I think I would be one pissed off bear, much more so than had I been left alone. They jack the bear up with drugs remove their signs because they are to lazy to come back then say they didn't think anyone would be hiking in the area. What stupidity on the the part of the Feds - but then again they are the same Feds that think the grizzlies should be delisted- that should say something about the quality of managers the Feds have handling our public resources. I hope the wife appeals, she does have case.
  4. Abraham
    Report Abuse
    Abraham - October 26, 2012 6:24 am
    Oh boy, greed, where do you get off saying this woman was greedy. She lost her husband, and who in their right mind would snare, and release a grizzly bear in close proimity to dwellings. If I was this woman's lawyer I would appeal it right on up the ladder, citing a Montana law to protect ranchers is stretching it a bit.
  5. rememberthefallen
    Report Abuse
    rememberthefallen - October 25, 2012 6:14 pm
    unfortunate she lost her husband. but i would think it is kind of obvious there are bears out there. the city doesnt post warning signs of all the dangers on the road. people are too quick to sue or point a finger. i guess i couldve sued the government of iraq for not posting signs saying warning, IEDs may ge in the road.
  6. ruby
    Report Abuse
    ruby - October 25, 2012 3:57 pm
    Signs or not, bears do live in the wild and that is a chance one takes with a cabin in the woods. He was a botanist, one would think he would be aware of things like that. It was a horrific tragedy no doubt. Just not a million dollar lawsuit. The greed of some people never ceases to amaze or amuse me.

Comment policy

We provide this forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the day's news. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and abuse are not. You must be logged into a personal account on Facebook to comment (FAQ). Readers are responsible for their comments and abuse of this privilege will not be tolerated. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate our Terms of Service. Comments reflect the opinions of the author - not those of The Billings Gazette or its parent company.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

More from the Gazette

2 women rescued Saturday on Beartooth Highway

2 women rescued Saturday on Beartooth Highway

38 minutes ago(0)
Two stretches of I-80 where pileups occurred are crash-prone

Two stretches of I-80 where pileups occurred are crash-prone

9 hours ago Photos

Photos

(0)
No money, no consensus: Pileups return discussion on I-80 safety

No money, no consensus: Pileups return discussion on I-80 safety

9 hours ago Photos

Photos

(0)
Closed-door meetings craft last-minute deals — but not all are happy

Closed-door meetings craft last-minute deals — but not all are happy

10 hours ago(0)
Casper man sent to prison for having sex with 15-year-old

Casper man sent to prison for having sex with 15-year-old

20 hours ago(0)
Amended FWP licensing bill headed to Gov. Bullock's desk

Amended FWP licensing bill headed to Gov. Bullock's desk

21 hours ago(1)
Founder returns to State Art Symposium for the first time in a decade

Founder returns to State Art Symposium for the first time in a decade

23 hours ago Photos

Photos

(0)
Officials find missing Mills boy safe

Officials find missing Mills boy safe

23 hours ago(1)

Transient pleads no contest to camp murder

23 hours ago(0)

New options to clean up Tongue River pollution

April 25, 2015 12:30 pm(0)
Nigerian man sentenced for scamming women using AG's image

Nigerian man sentenced for scamming women using AG's image

April 25, 2015 12:30 pm(0)

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses