Everest Guide wins protracted legal battle to cancel summit offer

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In 2020, a guided client hoping to reach the top of Mount Everest sued his guide service for canceling the attempt due to safety concerns. New regulations favor the guide society and appear to help protect the industry.

In September 2019, Himalayan climbing guide Garrett Madison faced a critical decision. He could either lead his group of clients and Sherpas through the Khumbu Icefall directly under a huge overhanging serac, or cancel the expedition and return to Kathmandu.

Experts estimated the serac to be the size of a 15-story building. He could detach himself without warning – when and if he did, he would eliminate anyone who stood in his way.

Ultimately, Madison called for a U-turn, like every other guide and expedition that season. Due to the danger of the serac, the zero parts reached the summit of Everest in the fall of 2019.

In March 2020, Madison’s decision resulted in a high stakes trial. Zac Bookman sued Madison Mountaineering for $ 100,000, citing breach of contract and fraud.

If successful, Madison said the lawsuit could bankrupt her business. So his legal team counterattacked Bookman, like all of Madison’s clients, had signed a waiver acknowledging that unforeseeable conditions could prevent the summit.

A recent settlement signed in a Seattle court resolves the argument. the decision is concrete: “Mr. Bookman will not receive any reimbursement, damage or other financial compensation or consideration of any kind” in connection with the incident.

He also concludes that “the fear of lawsuits and the financial repercussions of lawsuits can lead to injuries, illnesses and deaths for clients, guides, Sherpas and other mountain professionals.”

Everest in 2016; (photo / Mário Simoes)

Similar lawsuits could endanger Everest guides

Simply put, the case could have set a dangerous precedent for guide services. If clients can successfully sue Guides for safety decisions that go against their expectations of success, then Guides will take more risks to stay in business. Such pressure already exists in costly and high-risk scenarios like Everest.

“The real fear within the industry is that we will be sued every time we make a decision that a client doesn’t like,” Guy Cotter, CEO of New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, told Climbing.

“The typical client on Everest has always included business leaders in the industry and big guys, some of whom decide they should be the ones to dictate decisions on the mountain. “

Madison has guided more than 70 clients to the summit of Everest in a career that began in 1999. He stressed that the court ruling protects the decisive faculty of mountain professionals.

“I feel like this is a big win for me and my business and for the mountain guide industry as a whole,” he said. “Shipping managers should be able to make whatever decision they think is best and safest, even if it keeps the customer from showing up to the top and customers aren’t happy with it. “

Bookman vs. Madison Mountaineering: a long legal battle

Bookman’s original lawsuit, filed in California, appealed to several allegations against Madison. He claimed the guide had abandoned the expedition because another client had arrived out of shape. Bookman then said Madison verbally promised him a refund for the trip.

He never mentioned the serac. In a subsequent interview, Bookman said the block of ice was “red herring” and gave his opinion on the script. “There are seracs hanging all over the west wall of Everest,” he told Outside. “It’s like saying we can’t walk in the forest until that particular tree falls. “

seracs
An example of overhanging seracs on the north face of Liskamm, in the Swiss Alps. The steep snowy sections that cast shadowy areas below are boulders of ice or seracs. The danger is that they can come off unexpectedly; (photo / mountain)

A similar feature collapsed in the same area in April 2014. Although smaller, he killed 16 Sherpas working on the Khumbu Icefall between Base Camp and Camp I.

A California court dismissed the original lawsuit in September 2020 because it should have been filed in Washington, where Madison Mountaineering is based. The December 21, 2021 settlement appears to give the Bookman case some rest and adds to a legacy of similar failed lawsuits.

History of the prosecution of the Himalayan climbing guides and prospects

Outdoors lawyer James Moss said he was aware of two other legal disputes in which clients were demanding reimbursements from guides to Everest. Neither has succeeded.

“If the guide’s contract is well written, it will stipulate that the guide has the right to cancel the trip due to dangerous conditionsHe said. Moss also said the settlement is unique in that it is “written not for the court, but as a press release. It is intended to deter other similar lawsuits.”

Doug Grady, Madison’s attorney, summed up the company’s position in a written statement focused on Sherpa safety. “It is one thing for Sherpa to take these risks knowingly as paid mountain professionals,” he said. “It is quite another for the US legal system to create unhealthy pressures that make their jobs even more dangerous. “

He also said the company is considering an arbitration protocol to avoid future lawsuits by resolving disputes amicably. “Absolutely no one should be thinking of legal action while watching Western Cwm from Everest Base Camp,” Grady concluded.

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