The widow of an American hunter who was shot and killed near Burns Lake has been given the go-ahead to pursue a lawsuit against B.C. outfitter Wistaria Guiding.
Jeffrey Cooper, 59, from Washington State, was participating in a guided grizzly bear hunt on May 26, 2014 when he was accidentally shot and killed by a guide during the course of the hunt.
The guided hunt was provided by Gary and Julie Blackwell, doing business as Wistaria Guiding, in the Tahtsa Reach Forest Service area.
Crown counsel concluded in 2015 that no charges would be approved in relation to this accident.
Shirley Cooper, Jeffrey’s widow, has since filed a lawsuit alleging that Wistaria Guiding is liable in negligence for the death of her husband.
According to court documents released Nov. 6, the lawsuit is centred around a liability release agreement that was signed by Jeffrey in 2013, that Wistaria Guiding argued should apply to his visit a year later, when the accident that took place.
Since Jeffrey did not kill a bear during the 2013 hunt, Wistaria Guiding made an offer for him to return the following spring, free of charge, to try again.
The liability release agreement signed in 2013 states that Jeffrey acknowledged that the hunting trip “involves risks and dangers which are inherent to hunting and wilderness travel,” including to hazards of carrying and being in possession of firearms and ammunition and being in areas where hunters are likely to be present.
“I further accept and assume all risks of personal injury or death or loss or damage to property while participating in the said guided excursion, including negligence of Gary Blackwell and their employees, agents and associates,” reads the agreement signed by Jeffrey on July 28, 2013.
Wistaria Guiding argued that since the 2014 had the same purpose, the same risk and did not involve any additional charges, it was therefore a continuation of the 2013 hunt.
However, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined that the agreement signed in 2013 applied only to the guided hunt that occurred that September, stating that Wistaria Guiding’s intent of providing Jeffery a no-fee hunt in 2014 is not “admissible evidence.”
“Since the wording of that agreement refers only to the excursion which had been contracted for by the parties at the time of the document’s execution, I find that, properly interpreted, it has no application to the fatal accident that occurred some eight and a half months following completion of the September 2013 hunt,” stated Justice Kent in a court document detailing the reasons for judgment.