- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A wilderness training academy based in Wyoming is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking damages over the death of a hiker in a 2011 trip to India.

The National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, recently asked U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne to dismiss the suit filed by Elizabeth Brenner of Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Brenner is accusing the school of negligence in the September 2011, death of her son, Thomas Plotkin. The 20-year-old man died during a backpacking trip in India that was led by the school.

An attempt to reach lawyers for Brenner was unsuccessful on Wednesday. They had fought to keep the lawsuit in federal court in Minnesota.

The lawsuit states Plotkin slipped on a wet rock and fell down a 300-foot ravine. His body was never found, and the lawsuit states he was the 12th person to die on a NOLS course. It doesn’t specify a specific damage amount, but states the number is in excess of $75,000.

The lawsuit alleges that Plotkin was among a group of hikers who were walking far ahead of their school leaders in rainy, dark conditions when the accident occurred.

Lawyers for the school filed a response to the lawsuit on Friday asking Johnson to dismiss the case. They note that Plotkin had signed a statement before the trip stating that he was aware of the potential dangers. The lawyers say nothing indicates that NOLS intended the accident to happen or were indifferent to safety issues.

Bruce Palmer, school spokesman, said there’s never been a successful legal action against the program for death or injury of participants. He said the school has continued its semester in India program and said it’s currently going on.

“What the focus on any NOLS course is that we’re going to teach people outdoor skills,” Palmer said. “We’re going to have them develop their leadership. We’re going to teach them about the environment that they’re traveling in, and the nature of being in the outdoors so they learn skills and develop leadership. There certainly are always going to be risks that are involved with that.”

Palmer said the school has safety practices that are in place including how it selects and trains instructors and the training it provides for students on the course. “And of course, we also disclose the risks of wilderness travel during the enrollment process for our students as well,” he said.

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