Lawyer accuses Lodge Co. of downplaying river risk.
A jury in Cheyenne will decide whether Grand Teton Lodge Co. is responsible for the deaths of three tourists during a rafting trip on the Snake River in June 2006. A group of people from the East Coast, including relatives of the three who died and other raft passengers, sued the company in federal court in May 2008 over a trip that turned deadly when a raft carrying 12 passengers and a guide hit a log and capsized. John and Elizabeth Rizas, of Beaufort, S.C., and Linda Clark, of Shreveport, La., died. Others suffered hypothermia and injuries.
Mel Orchard, lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the jury in opening arguments Tuesday that the Lodge Co. was responsible for downplaying the danger of river rafting to encourage people to book the trip. The excursion launched from Deadman's Bar in Grand Teton National Park.
"The reason we're here is that this company doesn't think that it has any obligation to tell people the truth about the river," Orchard told the five-woman, three-man jury. "They don't think they have to do it. Had they told the truth, they would have had empty boats."
Orchard showed photos of the people who lost their lives and indicated that many of their family members were in the courtroom. Plaintiffs contend they were told the trip would be safe.
"The magnitude of this loss, we believe you will find, justifies a verdict award that will manifest justice," Orchard told the jury.
Maryjo Falcone, lawyer for the Lodge Co., told the jury the deaths were a tragic accident, but one for which no one is to blame.
Falcone said a "perfect storm" of events came together to cause the logjam that blocked the river channel. By the next morning, she said, the logjam was gone.
"Because that's how quick, that's how fast conditions can change on that river," Falcone said.
Falcone said that contrary to what the plaintiffs want the jury to believe, the day of the accident wasn't a particularly dangerous day on the Snake.
Peak spring flows on the Snake River generally range between 9,000 cubic feet per second and 22,000 cfs, Falcone said. She said the flows on the day of the accident were 7,481 cfs and that the National Park Service hadn't issued any warnings about conditions.
Falcone emphasized the Park Service concluded the accident was caused by a "change in channel conditions." She said the agency found no sign of recklessness or inattention by the guide.
Johnson granted requests this summer from Vail Resorts Inc., a parent company of the Lodge Co., and Tauck World Discovery, a travel company based in Norwalk, Conn., to be dismissed as defendants.
The federal lawsuit parallels one filed by the brother and sister-in-law of one of the deceased in the 9th District Court in Jackson. That case is still pending; a trial date hasn't been set.
Ninth District Court Judge Nancy Guthrie also granted Vail Resorts' request to be removed from the lawsuit in August, though Tauck is still included in the state litigation.
a trial began tuesday in which a jury will decide whether grand teton Lodge co. is responsible for the deaths of three tourists during a 2006 rafting trip on the snake river in grand teton national Park.