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Mother's wrongful death suit charges negligence in snowmobile tragedy

HATTON, N.D.--A mourning Larimore mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Hatton couple she claims were negligent in a snowmobile accident that killed her son almost a year ago..

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Mason Moen. Image via GoFundMe

HATTON, N.D.-A mourning Larimore mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Hatton couple she claims were negligent in a snowmobile accident that killed her son almost a year ago..

Julie Moen, mother of 10-year-old Mason Moen, believes Michael and Tracie Johnson bear responsibility in her son's death and wants in excess of $50,000 in damages, court documents say.

The Johnsons were the parents of the other boy who was on the snowmobile in the crash near the small town about 40 miles southwest of Grand Forks.

In the civil suit, Moen, via her her attorney Gary Hazelton, charges the Johnsons with one count of negligent entrustment for allowing her 10-year-old son to ride on a snowmobile without an adult, and one count of negligence for either not providing her son with a helmet or providing a helmet that was improperly sized.

Hazelton said his client had been OK with supervised riding on the snowmobile, but not riding out of range of parental supervision and not at high speeds.

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The Johnsons, in a formal answer issued through attorney Barton Cahill, reject the claims against them.

"The whole thing was unfortunate and my clients were surprised a civil case was filed," Cahill said.

The crash occurred the afternoon of Jan. 11, when Mason Moen, 10, was riding on snowmobile with Brody Johnson, 9. The snowmobile, a 1998 Polaris 700, belonged to the Johnsons, and the boys were riding near their home northwest of Hatton, N.D.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol could not determine who was driving the snowmobile, which they said was traveling at 50 mph when the fatal crash occurred. In her lawsuit, Moen claims the Johnsons' child was driving. In their response, the Johnsons contend that Mason Moen was driving.

Cahill said he is confident Mason Moen was driving the snowmobile. Hazelton said who was driving is not a critical factor.

"It's kind of irrelevant who was driving," Hazelton said. "It was a 9- and 10-year-old boy operating a 700 cc machine."

The Highway Patrol report stated both helmets that were recovered from the scene were adult-sized did not have damage consistent with being in a crash.

Brody Johnson suffered significant injuries in the crash, Cahill said, including being in a coma for several days. He does not remember the crash.

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A trial date for the lawsuit has been set for September 2017, but Cahill believes it may not come to that. The parties have a mediation conference scheduled for Feb. 15, he said.

"Both parties have agreed to attempt to resolve the claim," Cahill said.

Hazelton said he is also confident the suit will be resolved in mediation. If not, he said expert witnesses will be hired in preparation for the trial.

The Grand Forks County State's Attorney's Office did not file any criminal charges in the case.

Cahill said there is no reason for a criminal case to be reopened.

"There's no new evidence," he said. "There's no smoking gun of any kind."

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