Aspen outfitter says it can’t be held responsible for rafting death
An Aspen rafting company facing a negligence and fraud lawsuit for the June 2016 death of a Maryland man has filed a counterclaim arguing it cannot be held responsible for the fatality because the victim signed a waiver before entering the boat.
Aspen Whitewater Rafting introduced its counterclaim Aug. 8 in the U.S. District Court of Denver. That’s the venue for widow Allison Parker’s suit against the outfitter, which is accused of misleading the plaintiff and her husband, 58-year-old James Abromitis, about the river’s dangerous conditions at the time.
Abromitis was ejected twice from an Aspen Whitewater Rafting boat in the area of the Roaring Fork River known as Slaughterhouse Falls on June 15, 2016, “resulting with him being flushed downriver to his death,” according to the lawsuit.
The counterclaim, however, says Aspen Whitewater Rafting cannot be held liable due to a release Abromitis and Parker both signed stating, among other things, that they acknowledged the inherent risks of rafting. The agreement also said “that Class IV and V represent the most difficult and dangerous levels of whitewater and I recognize that the risks associated with whitewater rafting are increased at these levels.”
Class IV rapids are considered navigable for advanced paddlers, and Class V are meant for expert rafters, according to the nonprofit American Whitewater.
At the time of the fatality, rivers in the Aspen area were flowing strong from the snowmelt runoff. Parker’s suit claims that the Slaughterhouse section of the river was running over 2,000 cubic feet per second the night before Abromitis died, which is a “common limit for other commercial rafting outfitters due to the extreme risk presented by this section of river at high water.” The suit added the water was “running abnormally high” even though Aspen Whitewater marketed the Slaughterhouse portion as “suitable for ‘gung-ho beginners.’”
But by signing the release, Abromitis and Parker “agreed they would not sue Defendant for any loss, injury or damage resulting from their participation in any water-related activity,” the counterclaim said.
The counterclaim also alleged that Parker committed breach of contract by filing the suit and by doing so, should pay expenses associated with the litigation.
On Monday, Parker filed a response to the counterclaim saying that Abromitis and Parker signed the waiver “after the rafting trip was paid for and after the rafting trip began while on a shuttle bus to the Roaring Fork River, which was about a 10-minute drive.” Additionally, the couple were not told about the risks involved in the rafting trip, and Aspen Whitewater was offering an “inherently unsafe” service at the time of the death, the response said.
Aspen attorney Alan Feldman, who filed the suit June 14 on the widow’s behalf, was unavailable for comment Thursday. Attorneys from the Denver firm Hall & Evans LLC, which is defending Aspen Whitewater, also could not be reached.
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The crises between January 2009 and Tuesday, when he stepped down from the Pitkin County board, have bookended a political career that Newman said he thinks lived up to the slogan on the yard sign from his first campaign he still keeps in his garage: “Preserve, Conserve, Collaborate.”