Heavenly Wins Lawsuit Verdict

By Brian L. Covert
Tribune Staff Writer

The Heavenly Valley ski resort was not negligent in connection with the death of a skier three years ago, an El Dorado County Superior Court jury ruled Tuesday.

After 2½ days of deliberation in the $5 million wrongful death trial, the jury voted 9-3 that the resort and its ski patrol were not negligent in the death of Guy Michael Irving, whose body was found out of bounds off Heavenly’s Nevada side on April 8, 1982.

Jury foreman Daniel Howsepian said the decision wasn’t an easy one to make, considering the feelings of the skier’s parents, Robert and Marilyn Irving of San Diego, who filed the suit against Heavenly.

“Sympathy was very strong for the parents, but we also realized that we could not let sympathy sway us,” he said. “It was very hard. It was a difficult trial.”

Joan Avila was one of the three jury members who disagreed with the decision.

“We’re talking about human life,” she said. “Do we have to watch other people die before Heavenly Valley and other ski resorts prevent this from ever happening again?”

Robert and Marilyn Irving declined to comment on the jury’s ruling in the nine-day trial.

The Irvings originally filed the suit in October 1982, alleging that the resort’s staff did not properly mark trails, which in turn caused their son to ski out of bounds into an avalanche area.

The Irvings also claim that their son, who was determined by a coroner to have died of exposure, might have lived if the ski patrol had conducted an immediate search for the skier instead of waiting until the morning after he was reported missing.

San Francisco attorney Paul Nelson, representing Heavenly Valley, argued during the trial that the resort was not negligent in marking its trails. He also said that the extreme avalanche danger of the area and lack of daylight would have endangered the lives of rescue workers if an immediate search was made.

“It’s no question that this death was tragic and shouldn’t have happened,” Nelson said after the trial. “There wasn’t anything that could be done to save him until it was too late.”