2013-04-25 / Front Page

Lawsuit filed over Yosemite hantavirus incident

By Erik Skindrud

An illustration displayed on Park concessioner Delaware North Companies’ Web site shows Curry Village’s single-walled tent cabins (top) and a now-discontinued design (bottom) that apparently harbored deer mice. 
DNC | Contributed An illustration displayed on Park concessioner Delaware North Companies’ Web site shows Curry Village’s single-walled tent cabins (top) and a now-discontinued design (bottom) that apparently harbored deer mice. DNC | Contributed The fallout from last summer’s hantavirus outbreak is continuing as a woman sickened by the mousebourne illness seeks $3.25 million from Park concessioner DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite.

The lawsuit, filed in Mariposa Superior Court in January, has since been reassigned to United States District Court in Fresno. The first court date is a May 30 scheduling conference. Judge Sheila K. Oberto is assigned to the case.

According to attorney Mark Algorri, Cathy Carrillo of Chino contracted hantavirus while staying in a doublewalled Curry Village tent cabin in mid-June of last year.

The wife and mother fell ill in early July. She realized she was seriously ill around July 3, when she fainted while visiting the bathroom.

Attorney Carolyn Tan, who also represents Carrillo, said doctors put her client into a medicallyinduced coma from July 6 through 11. With the infection spread through her lungs, a ventilator was needed to help Carrillo breathe. Now 50 years old, the victim is left with diminished lung capacity, low energy, weakness in her left arm and thinning hair, Tan claimed.

Carrillo was treated at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation. The bout with the virus has left her with medical bills that total close to a million dollars, Algorri said.

According to court documents, Carrillo seeks at least $750,000 in special damages and $2,500,000 in general damages.

“It’s a very good case,” attorney Algorri said. “She got it at the tent cabin. Rodent feces were found between the tent walls. It was a situation that (DNC) knew about—so I think liability is pretty clear.”

A search of news stories shows a mixed outcome for previous hantavirus-related litigation.

None of the instances precisely parallel Carrillo’s Yosemite experience, however.

In 2001, a federal judge in New Mexico awarded the family of a Navajo hantavirus victim $2.1 million after a doctor incorrectly diagnosed him with bronchitis and sent him home—where he later died.

A 2007 Utah case that more closely resembles the Yosemite suit did not result in a judgement for the plaintiff. In that case, an appeals court backed up a lower court that found a builder of manufactured homes not liable for a hantavirus infection that killed a woman in 2000.

Carrillo’s case, however, may be strengthened by a 2010 National Park Service and the California Department of Public Health report urging “enhanced” hantavirus precautions in Yosemite and other parks.

The current case could go to a jury trial or could end with a settlement, Algorri said.

“The court will probably order some sort of mediation—so we’ll see,” Algorri told the GAZETTE.

The fact that Carrillo’s claim names concessioner Delaware North and not the Park likely results from a combination of the facts of the case and federal statutes that govern liability, law professor Kyle Graham of Santa Clara University explained.

“I'm guessing that this (decision) is the result of work the attorney has done to find out who was responsible for constructing and maintaining the Curry Village tent cabins,” Graham said.

“In a case like this, you can't prevail against the federal government, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, for responsibilities that were assigned to an independent contractor,” Graham added. “This is known as the independent contractor defense. If the suit alleged that the National Park Service had worked closely with the Park concessioner to design, build and maintain the cabins, you might show that the government is liable too."

Last summer’s Yosemite hantavirus outbreak killed three Yosemite visitors and sickened six more. Most apparently contracted the illness during stays in double-walled Curry Village tent cabins.

All 91 double-walled tent cabins “have been demolished and replaced with single-wall traditional tent cabins that have been part of Curry Village since 1899,” DNC’s Yosemite Web site states.

Delaware North declined any comment for this story, citing pending litigation.

Law professor Graham said it’s impossible to see how the current litigation will shake out.

“I learned a long time ago never to forecast a case,” he said. “I'm sure if you ask Delaware North's attorney, they will say there are two sides to every story."

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Just another example of

Just another example of people NOT taking responsibility for their own actions. When you go out into nature there are risks. How is the Parks & Recs at fault? They knew there were rodents in the woods near the tents? Wow, who would have thought there are animals in Yosemite! Isn't that the reason she was there? I imagine there is a money hungry lawyer behind this lawsuit. When are we going to wake up & see that these frivolous lawsuits are the downfall of our society. Remember the McDonald's coffee hot coffee lawsuit? Now you can't find a hot cup of coffee anywhere and business owners have forked out millions for "hot coffee" warnings to comply with laws resulting from that lawsuit. Shame on you Mark Algorri!

What a bunch of bull####.

What a bunch of bull####. Medical bills, okay. Some future monthly 'disability' perhaps, but over two million more? Greed is so ugly.

Ok I agree, take it to court

Ok I agree, take it to court if u must, but 3.25 MILLION! Give me a break! That's a bit excessive !

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