Oregon School Is Found Liable in Climbing Death

April 18, 1990 1 min read

A jury has found an Oregon private school that sponsored a student mountain-climbing expedition in which nine people died in 1986 liable in the death of one teenage student.

A Multonomah County Circuit Court jury ruled April 5 that the Oregon Episcopal School of Portland must pay $500,000 to Richard Haeder, whose son, Richard Jr., died during the climb of Mount Hood in May 1986.

Mr. Haeder brought the lawsuit against the school and a mountain guide, Ralph Summers, who helped lead the 13-member expedition up the mountain. The jury cleared Mr. Summers of negligence.

Ten students and three advisers set out for a one-day climb of Oregon’s highest peak and were within reach of the summit when a blinding snowstorm hit. They got lost in the blizzard as they descended, and built a snow shelter in which to spend the night.

The next morning, Mr. Summers and a student went for help and8reached safety, but the shelter was not marked, and it took authorities two days to find it.

Of the nine students and two faculty members inside, only two students survived.

The hike was part of an annual program for sophomores at the independent school called “Base Camp,” participation in which was required for graduation.

The school suspended the program in the wake of an investigation of the accident by an indepedent commission, which concluded that the decision to continue the climb in the face of severe weather and fatigue had led to the deaths. (See Education Week, Sept. 10, 1986.)

The school still has an outdoor-education program, but it no longer involves any mountain climbing, said Mariann Koop, a spokesman for the school.

Mr. Haeder’s suit was the first stemming from the incident to come to trial.

Mr. Haeder’s lawyers argued in court that the school staff members leading the group negligently forced the students to continue toward the summit despite the worsening weather and signs of hypothermia.

Mr. Haeder has said he will use the jury award to create a scholarship fund in his son’s name, according to news reports.

Parents of six of the victims have reached out-of-court settlements with the school.--mw

A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 1990 edition of Education Week as Oregon School Is Found Liable in Climbing Death