2024 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Legal, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Take me out to the courthouse; a look at liability in Colorado

Following the Colorado Rockies STEM day, we watched the team win in a dramatic comeback, scoring six runs in the eighth.

Going into the gate, I noticed the sign, “Warning: Under Colorado law, a spectator of professional baseball assumes the risk of any injury to person or property resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks” of the game, including “being struck by a baseball or a baseball bat.”

Most people welcome the opportunity to catch a foul ball. But this doesn’t always turn out well. A few years ago a stray ball busted open a woman’s forehead, giving her a concussion. She couldn’t sue under Colorado law, and that’s okay.

The purpose of civil liability is to discourage reckless behavior and to require those responsible for damages to pay compensation to the victim. But if it’s too easy to sue for damages, lawsuits drive up costs, tangle people in courts, and drive out inherently risky activities that many people nevertheless enjoy.

When I took my child to a trampoline park, I had to sign a waiver. I signed it even though I know two children who have broken bones at such places, because my child really wanted to go. He had a great time and, thankfully, did not get hurt. I also had to sign waivers when I took my child to a special event at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and to My Nature Lab to pet reptiles.

A lot of people were upset that Xcel cut some people’s power during the recent wind storm. But here’s a January headline from the Denver Post: “Xcel Energy faces nearly 300 lawsuits alleging utility company started Marshall fire.” Damages from that fire exceeded $2 billion. As I wrote at the time, “You can have liability for damages or you can have consistent power: Pick one.”

Ski liability

Colorado law also relieves ski resorts of liability, even though people die every year skiing into trees or burying themselves in snow. Far more sustain serious injuries, as a great report from the Colorado Sun reveals. You can sue other reckless skiers and snowboarders who cause injuries, if you can identify them.

Skiing already is hellishly expensive. My family nearly is priced out of the sport. If ski resorts had to assume legal liability for injuries on their slopes, two main things would happen. Skiing would get a lot more expensive, and it would be a lot less fun. At some level, if you want to ski, you just have to accept that it’s dangerous.

That said, I do wish resorts would do two main things to improve safety. First, get super-serious about kicking reckless skiers off the slopes. My main fear when skiing is that some 200 pound boarder will smash into my 60 pound child. I refuse to ski on crowded days. Second, get beginners into lessons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a new skier stand up, gain a lot of uncontrolled speed, then run into a net or something. But I doubt that changing the liability rules is the way to address such problems.

We can argue about the proper boundaries of liability protections. Jason Blevins recounts the tragic story of a girl who fell off a lift and broke her back. Allegedly lift operators were not paying sufficient attention to stop the lift when the girl failed to get seated properly. Still, that the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association is practically salivating over the possibility of suing ski resorts makes me nervous. Ultimately, skiers are the ones who pay the insurance premiums and the payouts.

Land owner liability

Last year, Anneliese Steel of the Boulder Climbing Community wrote, “The majority of land in Colorado is privately owned and public access is reliant on strong landowner liability protections.”

This year, the legislature passed Senate Bill 58. The summary explains, “In current law, the ‘Colorado Recreational Use Statute’ (CRUS) protects landowners (owners) from liability resulting from the use of their lands by other individuals for recreational purposes.” The bill adds extra protections by saying that “an owner does not commit a willful or malicious failure if the owner posts a warning sign at the primary access point.”

The bill passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously (with some excused absences).

Construction liability

In February, several legislators introduced Senate Bill 106, which would have created “a right for a construction professional to remedy a claim made against the construction professional by doing remedial work or hiring another construction professional to perform the work.” The bill also would have added “other forms of alternative dispute resolution.” After passing out of the Senate, a House committee killed the bill at the sponsor’s request on May 3.

Sara Wilson, citing research from the Common Sense Institute, writes, “Builders say that insurance can raise the individual price of a condo by tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance costs for condos are now 5.5% of a project’s hard costs.” Although I do not have a firm position on the bill, offhand it strikes me as reasonable. More lawsuits translate directly to higher housing costs.

You can sing along: “Take me out to the courthouse. Sue your pants off and more. Buy my rich lawyer a Tesla truck . . .”

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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