Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal scheduled a Dec. 3 trial for the case in Cheyenne. The case is slated to be heard just by Judge Freudenthal at a bench trial, as suits brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act are not heard by …
A lawsuit claiming that federal bear researchers’ actions led to the fatal mauling of an Illinois man has been set for an early December trial date.
Erwin F. Evert was killed in June 2010 by a grizzly bear recovering from researchers’ tranquilizers in the Shoshone National Forest.The 70-year-old man’s widow, Yolanda Evert, alleges in a suit that the federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team violated bear trapping protocols and ultimately caused Evert’s death. The primary allegations are that a two-man field crew negligently took down signs warning of the tranquilized bear and left before it was fully awake.
The government, represented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, denies the allegations.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal scheduled a Dec. 3 trial for the case in Cheyenne. The case is slated to be heard just by Judge Freudenthal at a bench trial, as suits brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act are not heard by juries. It’s estimated that a trial would last five days, though the case, like any other, could be dismissed or settled before then.
Yolanda Evert, who’s being represented by Emily Rankin and Mark Aronowitz of the Spence Law Firm, is seeking $5 million in the wrongful death claim.
She is from Park Ridge, Ill., but she and her husband had long lived seasonally in a cabin in the Shoshone National Forest’s Kitty Creek area just east of Yellowstone National Park.
Erwin Evert was a botanist who regularly hiked the area.
Shortly before he left for his fateful June 17, 2010 hike, Evert told his daughter he was going to catch up with the bear trapping team and see what they were doing, according to a federal report on the incident.
The site where Evert was killed by the bear — around seven-tenths of a mile from the nearest cabin — had been marked with warning signs, but the team took them down as they left and Evert would not have seen them. One member of the crew told federal investigators they took down the signs because they didn’t think anyone would be headed that way.
Two days after Evert’s death, an email was sent reminding capture crews to follow protocols about warning signs, but the government says there was no written policy about how long signs should remain up after capture operations were finished. Yolanda Evert’s complaint says the field crew should have left the signs up until June 20 — the end date listed on them.
The lawsuit also alleges the crew never warned Evert of the trapping, but the government says those in the area, including a guide, knew what was going on.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas Vassallo and C. Levi Martin also have argued the government had no duty to issue warning. Evert had seen warning signs at another location days earlier, and a friend had warned him that a team was trapping bears in the area, according to the federal report.
Federal bear researchers changed their protocols after the mauling and now make public announcements distributed to news media when bear trapping is beginning.
In its February response to Yolanda Evert’s lawsuit, the government listed several possible defenses, including claiming immunity, contending the claim is barred or reduced because of Erwin Evert’s comparative fault, that he assumed the risk for the alleged damages, and that any damages resulted from causes that aren’t the government’s fault.
Editor's note: This version corrects the explanation as to why the case is not scheduled to be heard by a jury.