Utah High court: State can be sued for 2007 bear attack

A sorry decision that will threaten all kinds of wildlife-

A result of this will be state agencies killing wildlife and closing campgrounds when a theoretically dangerous animal is seen within five miles of them.

High court: State can be sued for bear attack. By Donald W. Meyers. The Salt Lake Tribune.

We let unemployed homeless freeze on the streets but then baby people when they should be responsible.






  1. Bryanto Avatar

    I personal feel this is ridiculous, especially since they were not in a designated campground,but in a free dispersed site. People need to take responsibility for their own choices. Utah already has a very heavy hand in managing predators,shoot first ask questions later. This will ultimately result in even few bears in Utah.

  2. Nancy Avatar

    “One of the founding principles of wildlife management in the United States is that no one owns wildlife. Put another way, everyone owns wildlife equally (though not “owning” it in strictly a legal sense, like a person would own a car or a house)

    It is frightening when you think about what the ultimate outcome of this lawsuit could lead to.

    Will we see people crawling out of the woodwork, hiring lawyers and suing everytime there’s a conflict with “the people’s” wildlife? Will that eventually lead to people suing for damages when there’s a conflict between wildlife and vehicles?

    Will there be a new breed of lawyer popping up and clammering to represent those dead animals (and their offspring) rights?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      It seems to me that almost every time there is high profile (meaning big media coverage) death on public land, there is what I’ll term an ambulance-chasing-kind of attorney ready to represent a family on this issue.

      When the government loses such a case, we all lose a bit of our freedom because handrails go up, permits are required, wild animals are eliminated for another area, and so on.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Ralph – I honestly think mankind has yet to realize just how dangerously close we are to being on that “endangered species list” because so many lack the ability to recognize how essential all those other species are (and have been) to our existence.

        WE do however, have the ability to recognize a great buy at the local Walmart, Target, Home Depot, etc., can watch the paper for coupons, churned out by the millions, and many actually believe that the funneling down of most food sources now, to a few corporate giants, is the only way to purchase those essentials in order to get by……… so why bother worrying about the “little” things in life like wildlife?

  3. WM Avatar

    The UT Supreme Court ruled on a fairly narrow issue – whether the state could successfully assert sovereign immunity under state law. That does not mean the family of the child who was killed will win a wrongful death suit. There are other state defenses available that may prevent that from happening. Both the state and the FS are defendants.

    Query whether the bear would have gone after the kid if it had not been successful in the campground before going after ice boxes and other camper goodies. Was there a duty to warn of the danger from the bear apparently known earlier in the day? Who had that duty, the USFS (apparently it was their campground) or the State (not sure how that comes in unless state wildlife officials were called in?

    And then there is the issue of assumption of risk by the campers – if you come out here to an area where bears or other wildlife may inhabit (its their wood, right?) expect that it may not be safe. Geez, how many campgrounds have had bear problems of one sort or another? Then you may get armed campers. I am not sure which is worse. ….Wait, I know the answer to that question.

  4. mikepost Avatar

    I agree with WM, this was a narrow legal issue ruling. Now, the real issue is that you can create a “duty” for government by beginning to do something that you dont have to do (like posting bear warnings), but once you do it, you create an expectation that the public will be noticed in all similar cases (and thus a “duty” that you are now required to perform). I wonder what the history has been???

  5. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Things like this happen in courts once in a while but so far, fingers crossed, wiser heads have prevailed. There is no way that an agency can be held liable for acts of nature . . at least I hope not because those of us who cannot live without wildlife and wild places would greatly suffer from more regulation. People by the tens of thousands die from water everyday, but somehow we don’t go around in fear of water. A few people a year are killed by bears but a whole lot of people go around afraid of bears. It is because we know about water and generally think we can keep ourselves safe but very few people know much about bears . . particularly those people who read bear attack books as their main source of information. If the family won a law suit like this then statistically, we would have to protect people from water, bees, deer, dogs, falling trees, flash floods, potholes, elk, bison, mosquitoes and other dangerous animals.

    1. jon Avatar

      And many bears are killed by people. It’s as if some people want a predator free landscape. People who go hiking, camping, hunting, etc should expect wild animals to be there even if they aren’t when they get there. Let’s just kill every single animal that poses a risk to us.

  6. Bryanto Avatar

    The information in that article is misleading in stating that it occurred in a Campground. It did not,it occurred in a dispersed sight off a dirt road a few miles from a campground,and the bear had been in a nearby camp sight,but not the one that the attack occurred in. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19293440/print/1/displaymode=1098 . I have cross country skied that road, there are a lot of make sift camp sights. So to expect the forest service and/or DWR to mark all dispersed sights in the area with a bear warning sign is completely unrealistic. This is almost as bad as the time a bunch of boy scouts sued the NPS for getting caught in a flash flood in Zion NP, which by the way they won. Just remember when people sue the government for a cash settlement,it is everybody who loses.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan