Colorado Premises Liability act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner.Posted: April 4, 2016
Case is a major change in the liability of a ski area to the skiers and boarders who ride any lift in Colorado.
State: Colorado, United States District Court for the District of Colorado
Plaintiff: Carolyn S. Raup
Defendant: Vail Summit Resorts, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability Act, and for negligence, including negligence per se
Defendant Defenses: The negligence claims are Colorado Premises Liability Act
Holding: for the Defendant
This case may be ongoing the decision may not be final. However, the ruling is game changing and changes a large section of the law in Colorado.
The plaintiff was riding a chairlift at one of the defendants Vail resorts during the summer. The Colorado Tramway Act requires lifts operated during the summer to have a comfort bar available to riders. As the plaintiff and two other riders were approaching the top terminal, they had intended to ride the lift back down.
The liftie (top terminal lift employee), ran out and started yelling at the rides to raise the safety bar and exit the lift.
The plaintiff and friends did not understand or know that riding around the terminal would trigger the emergency stop. The riders also did not know that the download capacity of a lift is very different from the upload capacity of the lift. Many times that download capacity is 25 to 33% of the upload capacity. That means instead of loading every chair downhill you may only be allowed to load every third or fourth chair.
The other two riders were able to exit the lift running down the exit ramp. The plaintiff fell suffering severe injuries. The plaintiff brought this suit in the Federal District Court of Colorado. Vail moved to dismiss the claims of negligence and negligence per se brought by the plaintiff.
The court granted Vail’s motion with the following analysis.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first looked at the requirements for the plaintiff to survive a motion to dismiss under Colorado law.
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the party asserting the claim “must allege that ‘enough factual matter, taken as true, [makes] his claim for relief … plausible on its face.'” (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [pleaded] factual content [ ] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’
Thus, a party asserting a claim “must include enough facts to ‘nudge h[er] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.
A motion to dismiss is filed normally before the defendant has filed an answer to the complaint. The motion is filed when their allegations in the complaint are not supported by the law or misstate the law. The court rarely grants these motions because as started above, there must be just a plausible claim to survive.
In this case, the issue was the claims of the plaintiff were not available under the law. Meaning the law did not allow the plaintiff to make those types of claims against a defendant.
In this case, the Colorado Premises Liability Act, the act which controls the liability of a landowner to people on his land, was the only way the plaintiff could sue. More importantly, did the Colorado Premises Liability Act preclude not only common law claims (negligence) against a landowner but also claims brought under the Colorado Skier Safety Act based on a ski area being the landowner.
An earlier interpretation by the Colorado Supreme Court in two different cases preempted the common law claims. “
I agree with Vail that the Vigil and Lombard cases make clear that all common law claims involving landowner duties, including negligence and negligence per se claims, are abrogated by the Premises Liability Act which provides the exclusive remedy.
The plaintiff argued the Colorado Tramway Act still allowed negligence claims. The act was interpreted by a Supreme Court Decision in Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 80 (Colo. 1998), which held the ski area owed the highest degree of care to a rider on a chair lift, that of a common carrier.
However, the court found that Bayer had preempted by the Vigil act quoted above.
Six years after Bayer, the Colorado Supreme Court in Vigil made clear that the Premises Liability Act preempted all common law claims and provided the sole method of recovering against a landowner. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. The fact that Vigil did not reference Bayer does not change this result.
The plaintiff then argued the acts of the leftie were negligent and created a separate claim for negligence. However, again, the court found the actions were covered by the Premises Liability Act.
Vail’s duty of care to invitees such as Plaintiff is defined under the Premises Liability Act, which makes clear that it applies in actions by a person who alleges injury while on the property of another and by reasons of either the condition of the property or activities conducted on the property. This encompasses the allegations at issue in this case, including the injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff by activities of Vail’s employee in ordering Plaintiff and her fellow passengers to disembark from the chairlift. As such, the Premises Liability Act provides the only standard for recovery.
The court granted Vail’s motion to dismiss and dismissed the plaintiff’s negligence claims leaving only the premises liability claims.
So Now What?
Does this mean there is now a lower duty owed to riders of chairlifts in Colorado because they are classified as invitees under the Colorado Premises Liability Act? I don’t know.
However, it is clear; the Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes all other recreational specific statutes that then limits the recovery against most recreation providers due to injuries on the land (or waters?).
REMEMBER, THIS CASE IS NOT OVER AND HAS NOT BEEN APPEALED. THE DECISION REVIEWED HERE COULD CHANGE.
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