Bonsai Design sued over injuries incurred on Vail’s Game Creek Zipline

A platform at Vail Resort’s Game Creek Canopy Tour zipline attraction.

A lawsuit** (pdf) was filed in District Court last July against Las Colonias Business Park anchor tenant Bonsai Design and Vail Resorts for injuries a guest incurred on Vail Resort’s Game Creek Zipline Tour on July 7, 2017.

Lisa Cowles of Wisconsin filed the lawsuit (pdf) on July 22, 2019, challenging the “unreasonably dangerous and defective design, manufacture, installation, and maintenance of the ‘Game Creek’ zip-line course in Vail, Colorado.” Bonsai manufactured and installed the zipline course in 2015, and Vail Resorts operates it.

Ms. Cowles was injured on the longest segment of the zipline after she emerged from a stand of trees to see she was going far too fast to stop safely at the next landing platform. As she approached the platform at high speed, she observed the guide waiting for her jumping up and down and yelling something that she couldn’t hear. Ms. Cowles looked for the red and orange flags the guides had told guests indicated the braking system had been properly re-set for the next guest. She couldn’t see them. Ms. Cowles braced herself for the impact as the guide jumped out of her way. Ms. Cowles then collided at high speed with equipment and other obstacles on the landing tower in front of her. The lawsuit says the impact was so powerful that the entire zipline shook all the way back to the tower she had left above, approximately a half mile away. Ms. Cowles suffered traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a fractured knee, sprained ankle, bruises, lacerations and abrasions to her legs and face. She spent several days in the hospital before returning home to Wisconsin.

Ms. Cowles seeks costs of medical care, hospitalization, nursing and rehabilitation care she has already incurred, as well as care as needed into the future, plus damages for pain and suffering and her loss of earnings so far and into the future.

The Game Creek Zipline course consists of a series of seven ziplines totaling 10,000 feet in length. The course’s highest point is 270 feet off the ground. The entire course takes over 3 hours to complete, and Vail has marketed it as the “crown jewel” of the resort’s Epic Discovery mountaintop attractions.

Lawsuit charges defective design and operation

Vail Resort’s Game Creek Zipline course (Photo credit: YouTube)

Ms. Cowles’ lawsuit says guests using the zipline have no way to slow themselves in case of emergencies. It says the system “did not include any braking equipment or components that could be controlled by a guest” on the zip-line route. Rather, the course “places all control over the braking system … with the course operator and guides charged with accompanying and guiding guests down the zip-line course.” The design of the course requires guides to “re-set, re-position, and re-secure the braking equipment and components” between each guest’s arrival at the lower platform. The next guest was not to be sent down the zipline until the guide at the upper platform received notification from the guide at the lower platform that the braking system had been completely re-set and was ready for the next guest. According to her lawsuit, an apparent breakdown in this system allegedly led to Ms. Cowles’ accident.

Daily Sentinel has not mentioned the lawsuit

Information about the lawsuit against Bonsai appeared in the Denver Post on August 11, 2019, but for some reason the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has not covered the story. An internet search shows Bonsai Design was also named as a third-party defendant in another zipline injury lawsuit (pdf) filed in Hawaii in November 28, 2016. That case involved the Kohala Zipline in Kapaau, Hawaii, that Bonsai installed in 2011. The plaintiff sustained unknown injuries and the case was settled for an unknown amount.

A report published by the National Institutes of Health (PubMed.org) says the rapid proliferation of ziplines throughout the U.S. has led to a marked increase in zipline injuries in recent years. The rate of injuries increased by 52% between 2009 and 2012, with 70% of those injuries occurring the last last four years of the study. Injuries are typically broken bones and the most common accidents are falls. Operator errors are also to blame, as in this recent zipline injury (video) to a ten year old at an indoor course in Florida.

Information about these law suits may be of interest to Grand Junction residents, since the City of G.J. has staked a lot on the success of Bonsai Design. In March of 2018, the City of Grand Junction signed a contract giving Bonsai Design $1 million in grant money for construction of their building at the Las Colonias Business Park, $42,000 worth of property tax rebates over ten years, waived $78,844 in development and impact fees, a gave Bonsai a discounted land lease valued at half a million dollars as well as other perks, for a total incentive package worth almost $1.7 million.

City taxpayers should know about information like the Cowles lawsuit that could affect Bonsai Design, and should be more informed about the increasing risks of zipline/adventure parks, since it could affect this business financially, and potentially leave taxpayers holding the bag.

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**Special thanks to Dennis Simpson for obtaining, at unbelievable difficulty, a copy of the lawsuit against Vail Resorts and Bonsai Design, (pdf) so we all can see it. Thank you, Dennis.

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