The Summit Quest wilderness-therapy program cannot be held to standards set for health-care providers, U.S. District Judge David Winder has ruled.
The ruling this week came in the suit by parents of 15-year-old Michelle Sutton of Pleasanton, Calif., who collapsed and died while hiking in northern Arizona with 14 other patients in the St. George-based program. An autopsy showed she died of dehydration due to exposure, the Mojave County, Ariz., sheriff's office said.No trial date has been set for the suit.
Winder said he does not believe the program may be characterized as a health-care provider and be subjected to the standards of medical malpractice.
The Sutton family claims in the $5 million suit that Summit Quest advertised having a doctor and psychologist on the staff, but they say their daughter never was seen by a health professional.
Summit Quest has since been shut down in Nevada after state officials visited the program's camp 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
Winder denied a request by Summit Quest attorneys to strike references to the Challenger Foundation, a wilderness program shut down by Utah officials after a Florida teenager died last summer. All but one of Summit's employees at the time of Sutton's death formerly had worked for Challenger.
The Summit attorneys contended the references were prejudicial.
Winder said the references were allowable.
"Much of Challenger is relevant to this case because (Summit Quest) claimed a track record gained at Challenger," he said.