UVU settles lawsuit for $175,000
The trial date, which had been set for Oct. 26, was canceled after the legal representatives decided to settle out of court for the approved sum of money, which was paid from the State Risk Management Fund.
“We found the rulings not to be in our best interest,” said Sandra Steinvoort, assistant Utah attorney general, who oversaw the litigation of the case. “We had to make a decision based upon the evidence they were allowed to introduce against our ability to refute that evidence, so we had to come to that conclusion.”
On May 15, 2009, Geist attended a class at the Utah Woodturning Symposium held in what was then called the David O. McKay Events Center.
According to complaint and jury demand — filed in May 2010 on behalf of Geist’s widow, Bonnie — Geist was returning to his stadium-style chair which sprang up as he started to sit and “caused Mr. Geist to fall over the back of the seat onto his head.”
Geist would later die in Provo on May 23, 2009, as a result of the injuries he sustained.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the attorney general issued a response saying that the defendants were not responsible and that any injury or damage sustained by the plaintiffs was the fault of Geist and that the school should not be held responsible.
In the original lawsuit, UVU was named — along with the state of Utah, Orem City, the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority and the Utah State Board of Regents — as defendants in the case. But throughout the two-year process, all of the defendants were dismissed with the exception of the university.
“The plaintiff lawyer decided to sue everybody, name everybody and then figure it out,” Steinvoort said. “None of them had anything to do with Utah Valley University. It was an accident that occurred on Utah Valley University premises and therefore Utah Valley University was the only appropriate defendant.”
The lawsuit leaned heavily on a case of negligence, saying that the defendants “had a duty to exercise reasonable care toward Mr. Geist in warning him about the chair, maintaining the chair and selecting it.” The plaintiffs claimed that the chair had not been properly maintained and failed to provide proper instructions or warnings regarding the chair.
The lawsuit also claimed that UVU was responsible, as it should have been realized that the chairs involved an “unreasonable risk of harm” for people, specifically Geist in this case.
“We didn’t feel that there was anything really wrong with the chairs, as is — it was the usage of the chairs. But based on the way the judge ruled on issues, we felt like we had to go forward,” Steinvoort said. “But the chairs, as far as we’re concerned, are fine, safe and useable.”
Geist was 72 at his time of death. Geist had worked for Colorado Springs Utilities Electric Department from 1957 until his retirement in 1992 in the Planning and Analysis Section. During his 35-year career, Geist was involved extensively in the underground line program for the Colorado Springs community.
The proceedings were presided over by Judge Claudia Laycock in Provo’s Fourth District Court.
Representatives from the Geist estate were unavailable for comment.