Blackburn offered settlement in backcountry lawsuit 

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The lawsuit that shook Search and Rescue organizations to the core after a Quebec woman died in the B.C. backcountry is one step closer to being settled this week.

After more than 10 hours of mediation Monday, Gilles Blackburn, who got lost while skiing out of bounds with his wife Marie-Josée Fortin almost three years ago, settled his lawsuit with Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

An offer is now on the table from the RCMP and Golden Search and Rescue and Blackburn has until the end of business day Friday to accept.

"Even if the litigation ends on Friday this will never be over for him," said Blackburn's lawyer, and Whistler's Mayor-Elect Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

While the details of the settlement will never be public, the fallout from the lawsuit will have ramifications for volunteer search and rescue groups, which play a critical role saving lives in the backcountry.

"I think it will change things in the Search and Rescue business," said Wilhelm-Morden. "I don't think an SOS will ever be ignored again."

Fortin died of hypothermia after several days in the backcountry. Blackburn was rescued two days later.

The suit claims the three parties all negligently failed to conduct a search for the couple.

On two separate occasions, people touring in the backcountry reported seeing SOS distress signals the couple had left in the snow in the Golden backcountry but a search was not initiated in time to save Fortin.

Two days after she died Blackburn was spotted from a helicopter and rescued.

In response to the suit, search and rescue teams suspended or limited their operations fearing similar lawsuits.

The province then agreed to cover indefinitely the cost of liability insurance for search and rescue groups in the wake of the shakeup.

Wilhelm-Morden described Monday's mediation as "a gruelling day." 

When asked how Blackburn, who travelled from Quebec for the mediation, was faring, she said: "He's struggling. I don't know that you ever recover psychologically from something like that."

Go to online for updates on the settlement.

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