During the 2019 Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Recreation Law Group’s Leah Corrigan joined a panel of speakers discussing access to Jackson Hole’s most popular backcountry destination, Teton Pass. The panel discussed how National Forest users can recreate responsibly and avoid impact to the highway below, including triggering potentially injurious or fatal avalanches. The Jackson Hole News & Guide’s Cody Cottier reported the variety of perspectives represented on the panel.
Leah Corrigan, who founded the Recreation Law Center and advises recreators on legal liability, confirmed that it’s difficult to hold skiers accountable, especially by meeting the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof required for criminal prosecution. But, she said, “it’s not far-fetched” that they could be held accountable under civil law.
Depending on the circumstances, Corrigan said an avalanche-related case could be filed in federal court. The outcome of such a trial could ripple across the American West.
“We really are in a unique and — as a litigator, to me — terrifying position in Teton County,” she said.
Regardless, she said, legal implications shouldn’t be anyone’s foremost concern.
“Here’s what it really comes down to,” Corrigan said. “If you are the person who’s in the position of having triggered a slide that took out a commuter, who happens to be a 6-year-old child’s father,” she said, pausing for a moment. “Let that sink in.
“That is soul-crushing,” she said. “That’s not something you recover from, and I think that should be the focus.”
Other perspectives shared included the National Forest, Wyoming Department of Transportation, Teton Backcountry Alliance, and Teton County Sheriff.
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Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice, nor should it be viewed as such. Legal advice can only be provided based on specific facts. We recommend, as we must, that you consult an attorney before implementing any advice in this blog post. Receiving or viewing this blog post does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.