A Columbus fly fishing guide has settled a lawsuit brought by the family of an 81-year-old man who drowned after he fell overboard during a rafting trip down the Stillwater River in 2014.
The settlement was disclosed earlier this month in a U.S. District Court order written by Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan. The settlement amount has not been disclosed publicly, and lawyers representing both parties contacted by The Gazette did not respond last week.
The family of the drowning victim, Charles McJunkin, filed the wrongful-death lawsuit last year against Jim Yeager, the owner of Jim Yeager Outfitters. They sought a jury trial and unspecified damages from the fishing guide.
McJunkin had been floating the river in July 2014 with a group that included his partner, Julia Garner, and Yeager, when he fell out of the raft as it was approaching the take-out point upstream from the Beartooth Drop, both parties stated in court documents.
Yeager tried to get McJunkin back into the boat, but McJunkin was swept downstream. His body was later recovered by Stillwater County Search and Rescue crews.
After McJunkin went overboard, Garner also fell out of the boat, according to court documents, requiring the guide to make a “split-second decision” to let go of McJunkin and save Garner after she yelled that she couldn’t swim.
McJunkin’s family alleged multiple breaches of duty, including failing to require the elderly man to wear a personal flotation device. Both parties acknowledged in court filings that McJunkin was not wearing a life vest at the time in court, although Yeager contended he asked his client to use a personal flotation device, but that he repeatedly refused.
Yeager had argued for the family’s claims to be dismissed under the Montana Recreation Responsibility Act, which shields outfitters and other outdoor recreation providers from responsibility for the “inherent risks” of certain sports and recreation activities.
In an order filed in September, Cavan struck down that interpretation as too broad, writing that it should be up to a jury to determine “whether the risks encountered by McJunkin could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care.”
But Cavan also rebuffed the family’s argument that the law is unconstitutional because it is too vague, finding that its “standard is established with common, readily understood terms, and it incorporates the familiar negligence standard of reasonable care.”
Yeager did not return a request for comment last week.