• What to Know About Wrongful Deaths and National Parks Before Your Summer Vacation

    Yellowstone National Park

    Wrongful Death Lawsuits

    With vacation season upon us, many people are using their well-deserved time off to visit some of the country’s 417 national park sites, including 60 sites that have the designation National Park in their name. The parks can be found in every area of the country, as well as some of our far-flung territories. They encompass forests and deserts, battlefields and seashores. Though they are all worth visiting and exploring, it is important for visitors to remain mindful that just because a park is designated as part of our national lands does not always mean that they are safe. There have been many people killed in our national parks, and though it is possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government, these lawsuits can be extremely difficult to win unless there is evidence of extreme negligence.


    One such case occurred at Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California in 2009. A young boy and his sister sat on a rock wall to take a photo and the wall crumbled beneath them, leading to the boy’s death and severe injuries for the girl. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the park for its failure to maintain the wall and they prevailed, in part because of numerous actions that the park took to cover up their lack of maintenance and to destroy evidence.


    This outcome was unusual, as government agencies are often shielded from this type of lawsuit, no matter how tragic the outcome. In a case that drove the judges involved to suggest that a rules change was needed, a 380-pound mountain goat that had a long history of aggression towards tourists in Olympic National Park in Washington state. Though the park rangers and management had years in which to take action against the animal, they did nothing, and in August of 2011, 63-year-old Bob Boardhouse went hiking with his wife and a friend. The goat approached them while they were eating lunch, then aggressively pursued them on a trail, finally goring Boardhouse and severing an artery, and standing over his body so that rangers and rescue personnel were unable to render aid.  He died within minutes of the attack. His wife and family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the park service, which was defeated on legal grounds. Writing for the 9th Circuit, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld said that new rules needed to be written and that the case had clearly been one of negligence.


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