Family of avalanche victim drops school lawsuit, targets airbag maker


The family of Peter Marshall, who was killed in an avalanche near Red Mountain Pass while attending an avalanche safety course with the Silverton Avalanche School, have dropped their lawsuit against the venerable school.

But the family of the 40-year-old Longmont skier are suing K2 Sports and his company Backcountry Access, which makes the inflatable backpack that was not deployed when rescuers found Marshall buried in more than 8 feet of debris from avalanche.

“Peter Marshall attempted to trigger his Float 32 avalanche airbag system, but it did not fully deploy or inflate,” reads the product liability complaint filed in District Court for Boulder. The lawsuit does not describe how the family determined that Marshall attempted to deploy the airbag but failed.

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K2 Sports, which is owned by private equity firm Kohlberg & Company, denied the allegations in a response to the complaint filed this month, arguing that the airbag was not defective and that the losses suffered by the family Marshall were the result of “willful acts and not caused by any act or omission” by the manufacturer of the packaging. Lawyers for K2 Sports cited 16 facts which they say remove the company’s liability from their asks the judge to close the case.

Marshall was participating in an advanced avalanche safety course in the Upper Senator Beck Basin near Red Mountain Pass on January 5, 2019, when he was swept down a slope in an avalanche that caught five other skiers. Four skiers were not buried. Another was buried but was able to escape. When the skiers freed Marshall from the debris, he was not breathing. His Backcountry Access Float 32 bag, which has a trigger that must be pulled to inflate an air bag that can carry a skier on top of moving snow, was not inflated.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center investigators said in their report that the inflatable backpack “was functioning properly”, with “the trigger out of the bag strap, but the bag was not deployed.”

Two years after the crash, Marshall’s wife and young daughter sued San Juan Search and Rescue, the Silverton Avalanche School, and school guide Zachary Lovell. The 68-page wrongful death lawsuit also claimed Backcountry Access made a faulty air bag. The lawsuit argued that the school, the guide and the packaging manufacturer “created substantial and unreasonable risks of serious injury and death to the participants” of the safety course. Lawyers for the Marshall family did not answer calls or respond to emails. County and school officials declined to comment.

Marshall’s death was the first avalanche fatality of the 2019-20 season and the first in the history of Silverton Avalanche School, one of the nation’s oldest avalanche education operations. Marshall was participating in the school’s American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Level 2 course for backcountry skiers looking for advanced skills to travel in avalanche terrain.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center report pointed out several errors during the course, including a group of skiers gathered on a slope steep enough to slide, these skiers misjudging the steepness of this slope and not recognizing the avalanche risks on the slopes. neighboring slopes.

The guide triggered the first avalanche, which swept through all the skiers on the slope, according to the CAIC report. A second slide buried Marshall under several feet of snow.

Last month, the Marshall family dropped their claims against the county, the school and the guide. The family had argued that the school and guide tricked Marshall into signing up for the course by “falsely presenting” that school staff “had extensive operational experience in avalanche terrain.” The family also claimed the school and guide were “grossly negligent” which would exempt the protection provided in the waivers of liability signed by Marshall before the class.

The lawsuit against Backcountry Access and K2 Sports notes that the avalanche safety equipment company recalled “essentially similar” float packs due to an issue that could cause the pack’s ability to inflate to fail. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reported the recall of 8,200 Float 18 packs on November 26, 2013, with a warning that the trigger assembly may fail “resulting in non-deployment of the air bag. , which presents a risk of death and injury in the event of an avalanche. “

The Marshall family complaint contends that Backcountry Access “should have known that insufficient design changes were made to the avalanche airbags manufactured after the recall to avoid such failures.”

The lawsuit argues that Backcountry Access should have been aware of “safer alternative designs,” such as a remote or automatic triggering or inflation system.

Another skier in Marshall’s party was carrying an avalanche air bag and attempted to deploy the bag when it was blown down the slide. It didn’t swell.

“He later determined he had assembled the trigger mechanism incorrectly,” read the CAIC report, which did not identify the brand of air bag used by this skier.

Avalanche airbags are widely recognized as one of the best technologies for avalanche safety since the transceiver, which transmits a signal to other transceivers, helping to locate a buried skier. . But he’s not a perfect defender. Wearing an avalanche airbag can save just over half of skiers who would otherwise have been killed in an avalanche, according to a 2012 review of five different studies on the effectiveness of airbags.

Deployment is the critical issue however. A 2014 study of avalanches involving skiers with airbags showed that 60% of avalanche accidents involving skiers with uninflated airbags were due to the skier never pulling the trigger. This study also showed that 12% of so-called non-inflation incidents were due to user error, including improper assembly of the trigger mechanism.

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