Posted: October 29, 2019 | Author: Recreation Law | Filed under: Activity / Sport / Recreation, Assumption of the Risk, Illinois, Legal Case, Minors, Youth, Children | Tags: adults, appreciate, argues, Assumption of risk, bonfire, Carey-Grove Evangelical Free Church, church, circumstances, conditions, consequences, darkness, deliberate-encounter, distraction, evening, factors, factual issue, Fire Pole, gloves, grip, height, inside, ladder, Living Grace Community Church of Cary, material fact, no evidence, Open and Obvious, Open and Obvious Doctrine, Platform, pole, reasonably foreseeable, Slide, Summary judgment, summary judgment motion, Tree Platform, Trial court, younger child, youths |
Grosch v. Anderson, 2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529
Grosch v. Anderson
Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District
September 12, 2018, Order Filed
2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U *; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529 **
TRACEY GROSCH, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Riley Grosch, a Minor, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant, v. BRIAN ANDERSON, JO ANDERSON, CARY-GROVE EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH, d/b/a Living Grace Community Church of Cary, Defendants and Counterplaintiffs-Appellees.
Notice: THIS ORDER WAS FILED UNDER SUPREME COURT RULE 23 AND MAY NOT BE CITED AS PRECEDENT BY ANY PARTY EXCEPT IN THE LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOWED UNDER RULE 23(e)(1).
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 14-L-619. Honorable James R. Murphy, Judge, Presiding.
Judges: JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court. Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.
Opinion by: BIRKETT
JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court.
Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.
Held: The trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants because the fire pole was an open and obvious condition and no exception existed, and there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment.
[*P2] Plaintiff, Tracey Grosch, individually and as mother and next friend of Riley Grosch, a minor, appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Brian Anderson, Jo Anderson, and the Cary-Grove Evangelical Free Church d/b/a Living Grace Community Church on plaintiff’s claims of negligence related to Riley’s fall as he was attempting to slide down a fire pole in the Andersons’s back yard during an event sponsored by the Church’s youth ministry. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in relying on the open-and-obvious doctrine and in concluding [**2] that there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment. We affirm.
[*P3] I. BACKGROUND
[*P4] We summarize the pertinent facts. On November 14, 2016, the Andersons were members of the Church; plaintiff’s family attended the Church, but were not members. According to Pastor Cory Shreve, quite a few more people attended the Church than were members. Shreve was the youth pastor and was responsible for running and administering the Church’s youth ministry. He was in charge of the Radiate program which provided for fellowship and religious mentoring of youths beginning in seventh grade and ending upon high school graduation. Radiate was open to members and attendees, and it incorporated youths from other churches and even the “unchurched” as well. Radiate had contacted the Andersons seeking to hold a bonfire at their home; the group had held a bonfire there previously.
[*P5] In the Andersons’ back yard, Brian had constructed a platform in a tree from which he had removed the upper branches and foliage. The platform was about 25 feet above the ground. The platform was reached by a ladder tied to the tree. The platform had a rail around it, but no other fall protection. The [**3] platform had a triangular hole in it, and through the hole, was a metal “fire pole.” The pole was made out of sprinkler pipe, was affixed in concrete at the base, and was 3 1/2 inches in diameter. The surface of the pole had oxidized. The ground around the pole was grass covered, and no force-absorbing material, such as sand or wood chips, had been placed around the bottom of the pole.
[*P6] Brian explained that he built the platform and fire pole for his children. Both Brian and Jo testified in deposition that between 150 to 200 people had used the pole, all without injury. Brian testified that he was a construction contractor and was familiar with fall protection for working above the ground and had employed it in his work; no fall protection was installed or available on the platform. Brian testified that he did not research or follow any building codes for the platform and fire pole.
[*P7] On the day of the Radiate event, Shreve arrived 15-30 minutes before the announced start of the event. Some of the parents stayed to socialize, others dropped their children off. Plaintiff dropped off Riley and then went shopping nearby, intending to finish shopping and then return for the balance of the [**4] event. Jo was inside the house for the event, and she monitored the food and drinks, making sure that there was plenty for all of the guests. She also socialized with the other parents. Brian was also inside socializing. Shreve was monitoring the bonfire. At one point, he intercepted one of the youths who tried to jump over the bonfire and explained to the youth why that was not a wise decision. At the time of Riley’s accident, Shreve had gone inside.
[*P8] Riley, the Andersons, and Shreve all testified that it was a cool or cold evening, estimating the temperature was anywhere from the 20s to the 40s. According to Shreve and Brian, the point of the event was the bonfire and indoor fellowship; the youths attending were not expected to play in the back yard, but were expected to roast marshmallows in the bonfire and to play in the basement, where pool, basketball, and board games were available. After about an hour outside, Shreve went inside, planning to steer the event towards worship. One of the youths came inside and alerted Shreve and the adults that Riley was hurt.
[*P9] Riley testified that he climbed up the ladder. The ladder had metal rungs, so his hands became cold. At the top, on the [**5] platform while waiting for his turn, he put on gloves. Riley testified that the gloves were like ski gloves, and believed they were slick, possibly made of nylon. Riley testified that he awaited his turn along with several other youths. On that day, Riley was 13 years of age. He grabbed the pole with his hands, but he did not wrap his arms or legs around the pole. As Riley began his descent, he lost control, grabbed for the edge of the platform but could not hang on, and he plummeted the rest of the way to the ground. Riley suffered a comminuted fracture of his left femur and broke several long bones in his right foot. Riley’s femur was repaired surgically, and he had a rod emplaced in the bone. There is a possibility that the rod may have to be removed at a future date. Riley also developed a foot drop following his fall from the platform.
[*P10] The adults came out to investigate after they were notified. One of the youths, an Eagle Scout, obtained a rigid table top, and after they had ascertained that Riley had no apparent head or spinal injuries, placed him on the table top and moved him inside. Their purpose was to get him off of the cold ground; Riley apparently was complaining of resting [**6] on the cold ground. Plaintiff was informed and told to return to the Andersons’ house. According to Brian, she arrived in minutes; plaintiff and other deponents testified that it was closer to 20 minutes. Eventually, an ambulance was called. It appears that plaintiff made the call for an ambulance as the other adults wanted to defer to her wishes. The ambulance took Riley to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
[*P11] Shreve and the Andersons testified that, when the plans were made to use the Anderson property for the Radiate bonfire, they did not conduct an inspection of the property to determine if there were any unsafe conditions. Rather, Brian testified that he had a safe house, including the fire pole, because nobody had been injured using it up to that time.
[*P12] Plaintiff’s expert, Alan Caskey, a park and recreation planner and consultant, testified that the fire pole was too wide, too high, and the landing area was too hard. Caskey opined that the width of the pole, being almost twice the diameter that industry standards allowed in playground equipment, contributed to Riley’s injury, because the excessive width of the pole decreased the strength of the user’s grip of the [**7] pole. Caskey did not, however, offer any opinion about the effect of Riley’s gloves on his ability to grip the pole, but noted that any effect would depend on the type of glove, which he could not recall. Caskey also specifically noted that the fall height was much greater than industry standards allowed (five feet is the norm), and the landing area did not contain any force-mitigating substances, and these circumstances caused or contributed to the likelihood and severity of injury. Caskey also opined that the darkness could have contributed to Riley losing his grip on the pole because it obscured the size of the pole and its texture. However, Caskey admitted that these were assumptions on his part, and he conceded that there was no testimony specifically addressing these issues.
[*P13] As to the procedural posture of this case, on December 15, 2014, plaintiff timely filed her initial complaint; on February 19, 2015, plaintiff filed the first amended complaint at issue in this case. On April 28, 2016, the Andersons filed their motion for summary judgment followed on June 29, 2016, with the Church’s motion for summary judgment. The motions were stayed while plaintiff procured her expert testimony. [**8] In November 2016, defendants filed their counterclaims against plaintiff.
[*P14] On March 16, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which the trial court granted. On March 31, 2017, the Church, joined by the Andersons, filed a motion to vacate the trial court’s grant of leave to file the second amended complaint. On April 6, 2017, the trial court vacated its order granting leave to file the second amended complaint and reinstated the briefing schedule on defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
[*P15] On May 15, 2017, the trial court apparently heard the parties’ arguments regarding defendants’ motions for summary judgment. On that date, the trial court continued the cause until June 2, 2017, for ruling. On June 2, 2017, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff. The court specifically held that:
“defendants owed no duty to plaintiff based on the open and obvious nature of the subject condition [(the platform and fire pole)] on the property; there being no proximate cause between the condition on the property and the injury to [Riley]; and there being no question of material fact raised by plaintiff.”
The trial court [**9] entered judgment for defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s case. No transcripts of either the argument or the pronouncement of judgment were included in the record.
[*P16] On June 30, 2017, plaintiff filed her motion to reconsider. On August 11, 2017, the trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider, and plaintiff timely appeals.
[*P17] II. ANALYSIS
[*P18] On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in holding that the platform and fire pole presented open and obvious conditions precluding the imposition of a duty. Plaintiff specifically contends that the design flaws in the construction of the platform and the fire pole and the lack of lighting rendered the dangers hidden rather than open and obvious; alternatively, plaintiff argues that the distraction doctrine should apply. Plaintiff also contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding “the true cause” of Riley’s fall. We consider the arguments in turn.
[*P19] A. General Principles
[*P20] This case comes before us following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine whether the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits in the record [**10] show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2016). The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a factual issue but to determine if a factual issue exists. Monson v. City of Danville, 2018 IL 122486, ¶ 12. While summary judgment provides an expeditious means to resolve a lawsuit, it is also a drastic means of disposing of litigation. Id. Because of this, the court must construe the record strictly against the moving party and favorably towards the nonmoving party, and the court should grant summary judgment only if the moving party’s right to judgment is clear and free from doubt. Id. We review de novo the trial court’s judgment on a motion for summary judgment. Id.
[*P21] Here, plaintiff alleged that defendants were negligent regarding the platform and fire pole. In a negligence action, the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached the duty owed, and that an injury proximately resulted from the breach. Bujnowski v. Birchland, Inc., 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 12, 394 Ill. Dec. 906, 37 N.E.3d 385. The existence of a duty is a question of law and may properly be decided by summary judgment. Id. If the plaintiff cannot demonstrate the existence of a duty, no recovery by the plaintiff [**11] is possible, and summary judgment in favor of the defendant must be granted. Wade v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2015 IL App (4th) 141067, ¶ 12, 396 Ill. Dec. 315, 39 N.E.3d 1141. With these general principles in mind, we turn to plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P22] B. Open and Obvious
[*P23] Plaintiff argues the trial court erred in determining that the platform and the fire pole were open and obvious conditions precluding the finding of a duty on the part of defendants. As a general matter, the owner or possessor of land owes a visiting child the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe and to warn the visitor of dangerous nonobvious conditions, but if the conditions are open and obvious, the owner or possessor has no duty. Friedman v. Park District of Highland Park, 151 Ill. App. 3d 374, 384, 502 N.E.2d 826, 104 Ill. Dec. 329 (1986). The analysis of duty with respect to children follows the customary rules of negligence. Id. This means that a dangerous condition on the premises is deemed one that is likely to cause injury to a general class of children, who, by reason of their immaturity, might be unable to appreciate the risk posed by the condition. Id. However, the open-and-obvious doctrine may preclude the imposition of a duty. Id.
[*P24] Recently, this court gave a thoroughgoing analysis of the open-and-obvious doctrine, how exceptions to that doctrine are accounted for, and, ultimately, how duty is imposed [**12] in these types of cases. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶¶ 13-46.1 We concluded that, in cases in which the open-and-obvious doctrine applies, the court will consider whether any exception to the doctrine applies, such as the distraction exception (id. ¶ 18 (discussing Ward v. K Mart Corp., 136 Ill. 2d 132, 149-50, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288 (1990) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff’s attention might be distracted so that the plaintiff will not discover or will forget what is obvious)) or the deliberate-encounter exception (id. ¶ 32 (discussing LaFever v. Kemlite Co., 185 Ill. 2d 380, 391, 706 N.E.2d 441, 235 Ill. Dec. 886 (1998) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff, generally out of some compulsion, will recognize the risk but nevertheless proceed to encounter it because, to a reasonable person in the same position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk)). When no exception applies, the court proceeds to the general four-factor test for imposing liability: (1) whether an injury was reasonably foreseeable; (2) the likelihood of injury; (3) the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury; and (4) the consequences of placing that burden on the defendant. Id. ¶ 19 (quoting Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 151).
[*P25] We held that the case law had developed into two approaches in applying the four-factor [**13] duty test. In one approach, the first two factors will favor the defendant (because the danger is open and obvious), and the court must consider the third and fourth factors which could, at least theoretically, counterbalance the first two factors. Id. ¶ 46. Under the second approach, which we deemed to be more consistent with section 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A (1965)) on which our supreme court had relied, the last two factors could never outweigh the first two factors, so even if the burden and consequences were minimal, the defendant necessarily would not have any duty to the plaintiff. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶ 46.
[*P26] Generally, falling from a height is among the dangers deemed to be open and obvious and appreciable even by very young children. Qureshi v. Ahmed, 394 Ill. App. 3d 883, 885, 916 N.E.2d 1153, 334 Ill. Dec. 265 (2009). The risk that confronted Riley as he clambered up to the platform and attempted to use the fire pole was simply a fall from a height, and thus, was an open and obvious risk. We next turn to whether there is an available exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine.
[*P27] Plaintiff first argues that the distraction exception applies here. The distraction exception had its genesis in Ward, 136 Ill. 2d 132, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288. In that case, a shopper exited the store carrying large mirror he had just purchased and was injured when he walked into a [**14] concrete post. Id. at 135. The court explained that, even though the post was an open and obvious condition, harm was nevertheless reasonably foreseeable because the store had reason to expect that its customer’s attention may have been distracted so that the customer would not have discovered what is obvious, or would have forgotten what was discovered, or would have failed to protect himself. Id. at 149-50.
[*P28] In support of her argument that the distraction exception should apply, plaintiff cites only Ward and Sollami v. Eaton, 201 Ill. 2d 1, 15-16, 772 N.E.2d 215, 265 Ill. Dec. 177 (2002). Ward gave several examples of circumstances in which the distraction exception could apply. As an example, stairs are generally not unreasonably dangerous, but they may be so if, under the circumstances, the plaintiff may fail to see the stairs. Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 152. Additionally, an open and obvious condition may nevertheless be unreasonably dangerous if it exists in an environment in which the plaintiff is attending to his or her assigned workplace duties and encounters the condition. Id. at 153. For example, a builder carrying roof trusses steps into an open hole in the floor, or a dock worker unloading a truck steps off of a lowered dockplate while unloading a truck, or a customer falls when he or she misses the step off of the stoop [**15] at the entrance to the store, are all instances in which the defendant should have foreseen the risk of harm caused by the otherwise open and obvious condition.
Sollami, by contrast, involved a child “rocket jumping” on a trampoline with several other children when she injured her knee after being “rocketed” to a greater-than-usual height and landing on the surface of the trampoline. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 4. After briefly discussing the parameters of the distraction exception (id. at 15-16), the court held that there was no evidence to show that the child was distracted while jumping on the trampoline (id. at 16). In other words, the child was using the trampoline as she intended to, and she was fully aware of the danger jumping on it may have presented.
[*P30] Considering the evidence in the record, we conclude that there was no evidence of distraction presented in the record. Riley climbed up the ladder to the platform, some 25 feet above the ground. Once there, he waited in a line for the fire pole. He did not testify that any of the other persons in the line bothered or distracted him as he prepared to slide down the fire pole. Instead, he put on slick nylon gloves and attempted to slide down the pole by grasping the pole with [**16] only his hands. As he began his descent, he lost control, attempted to arrest his descent by grabbing the deck of the platform, failed, and fell from a height onto the ground. There is nothing in the evidence in the record to support a conclusion that Riley was distracted. He was not going about his profession or avocation as in the examples in Ward when he encountered the condition. Rather, he was participating in using the fire pole as he intended, as in Sollami. Indeed, Riley attributed his fall to losing his grip when he attempted to slide down the pole using only his hands and not wrapping his arms and legs around the pole. Accordingly, we hold the distraction exception does not apply here.
[*P31] Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening distracted Riley from perceiving the width of the fire pole and the height of the drop from the platform. We disagree. Riley had to have been acutely aware of the height of the platform, having climbed every inch of the 25-foot height up the ladder. As to the width of the pole, Riley would have perceived it as he grasped it. Brian Anderson testified that everyone he had observed use the pole had instinctually wrapped their arms and legs around [**17] it. Riley testified that he attempted to use only his hands to grip the pole for his descent, despite the fact that a number of other children had used the pole before him and he apparently had the opportunity to observe them while waiting his turn.
[*P32] We also note that there is no evidence that Riley stepped through the opening while trying to use the fire pole, which would, perhaps, have brought the circumstances within the examples in Ward in which workers encountered a condition that was otherwise open and obvious while performing work-related tasks. Instead, Riley testified that he was able to negotiate his way to the pole and grasp it to begin his descent. Thus, there is no evidence that he simply stepped into the opening which went unperceived due to the darkness of the evening. Likewise, there is no evidence that one of the persons waiting for a turn distracted him so he stepped into the opening and fell. There is no evidence of distraction evident, so we reject plaintiff’s contention that Riley was distracted by the darkness and the other children, or that the presence of darkness and other children were sufficient to demonstrate a factual issue in the absence of any evidence [**18] that these purported distracting circumstances contributed in Riley’s fall.
[*P33] The deliberate-encounter exception is usually raised in cases in which an economic compulsion (such as employment) causes the plaintiff to encounter the dangerous condition because, to a reasonable person in that position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 15-16. Plaintiff does not contend that the deliberate-encounter exception is applicable to the circumstances. While the deliberate-encounter exception may not be limited to circumstances of economic compulsion, there is no evidence that Riley was under any compulsion, such as peer pressure, to attempt to slide down the fire pole. Because there is no evidence, we hold the deliberate-encounter exception does not apply.
[*P34] In the Bujnowski analytical framework, we now turn to the four-factor duty test. Because the condition was open and obvious, namely falling from a height, Riley’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable, because falling from a height is among the risks that even very young children (and Riley was not a very young child but 13 years of age) are capable of appreciating and avoiding that risk. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. Likewise, the likelihood of injury is [**19] small because the risk was apparent. Thus, the first two factors strongly favor defendants.
[*P35] The remaining factors appear to be split between plaintiff and defendant. The burden of guarding against the injury appears relatively slight. Defendants could have forbidden the children to use the platform and fire pole. The consequences of placing the burden on defendants are perhaps greater. The Andersons testified that they erected the structure for the amusement of their children. They also testified that of hundreds of users and uses, no one had ever been injured, from young children to older adults. (Plaintiff testified that one of the Andersons told her that one of their children had been injured using the fire pole; the Andersons denied making this statement and denied that any of their children had been injured using the fire pole.) The consequences of forbidding the structure’s use that evening would have been miniscule; the consequences of forbidding access altogether would have been much greater. Even if this calculus on the final two factors favors plaintiff, we cannot say that, in light of the open and obvious nature of the hazard, that they outweigh the first two factors. See [**20]
Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55 (no published case has held both that the open-and-obvious doctrine applied without any exception being present and the defendant still owed a duty to the plaintiff). Accordingly, we hold that defendants did not owe Riley any duty in this case.
[*P36] Plaintiff argues that the hazard in this case was not open and obvious. Plaintiff argues first that the fire pole, being almost twice the diameter recommended in the industry, was a hidden and dangerous condition. We disagree. The risk posed by the structure was a fall from a height, and the evidence shows that Riley made the climb up to the platform and fell when he had donned slick nylon-shelled ski gloves and did not wrap his arms and legs around the pole.
[*P37] Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening concealed the width of the pole from Riley. Riley did not testify that he fell through the opening because it was too dark to see. Rather, he testified that he fell when he tried to slide down without wrapping his arms and legs around the pole and when his slick gloves caused his grip to fail. We reject plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P38] Plaintiff contends that, due to the construction of the structure and the darkness of the evening, the dangers [**21] associated with it were not obvious to Riley. We disagree. Riley climbed up to the platform, so he knew that he was very high above the ground. The risk of a fall from a height was therefore clearly apparent, as even very young children are deemed to appreciate the risk of a fall from a height. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. We therefore reject plaintiff’s contention and persist in holding that the risk was open and obvious.
[*P39] As plaintiff has neither convinced us that the risk was not open and obvious nor that any exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine was applicable, we affirm the judgment of the trial court on this point.
[*P40] C. Factual Issues
[*P41] Plaintiff argues there is a factual issue whether Riley’s slick gloves or the 3 1/2-inch diameter of the pole caused Riley’s fall. Plaintiff contends that Caskey testified that the pole was so wide that Riley had inadequate grip strength to descend safely (perhaps implying the converse that, if the pole were narrower, Riley’s grip strength would have been adequate). Plaintiff concludes that there is a factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall, and this issue should have precluded summary judgment.
[*P42] We disagree. Even conceding a factual issue in the mechanism [**22] of Riley’s fall, defendants did not owe Riley any duty because the risk of a fall from a height was open and obvious, no exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine applied, and the final two factors of the four-factor duty test did not outweigh the first two factors. Thus, the factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall was not material in the absence of a duty.
[*P43] Plaintiff also contends that defendants owed a duty to instruct Riley on the use of the pole. While this contention is perhaps structurally misplaced in plaintiff’s argument, it is unavailing. The danger of the structure to Riley was open and obvious: a fall from a height. If, as plaintiff appears to contend, Riley did not know how to descend a fire pole, the risk of a fall from a height was still something he could appreciate. Under the law, then, Riley is deemed to be able to appreciate and avoid that risk, including his own limitations on using the fire pole to descend from the height. Accordingly, we reject plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P44] We close with the following observation from Bujnowski: “[t]ragic as the facts of this case are, they are not extraordinary in a legal sense and do not call for a result that would [**23] appear to be without precedent.” Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55.
[*P45] III. CONCLUSION
[*P46] For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County.
End of Document
Posted: August 22, 2011 | Author: Recreation Law | Filed under: Colorado, Legal Case, Youth Camps | Tags: abuse of discretion, awarding, building code, building department, client file, common law, copying, correctly, cumulative, Dangerous Condition, evidentiary ruling, expert testimony, Expert Witness, failure to exercise, Invitee, ladder, Landowner, liability act, loft, mistrial, Negligence per se, Notice, Ordinance, policy limit, Premises Liability, proposed instruction, reasonable care, School district, Summary judgment, video |
Turene Lombard and Pueblo School District #60, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Colorado Outdoor Education Center, Inc., a Colorado non-profit corporation, d/b/a The Nature Place; and Sanborn Western Camps, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit corporation, d/b/a The Nature Place, Defendants-Appellees.
Court of Appeals No. 09CA2704
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION THREE
2011 Colo. App. LEXIS 1401
August 18, 2011, Decided
THIS OPINION IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION AND SUBJECT TO REVISION UPON FINAL PUBLICATION
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Teller County District Court No. 02CV49. Honorable Edward S. Colt, Judge.
COUNSEL: James M. Croshal, Pueblo, Colorado; Mickey W. Smith, Pueblo, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant Turene Lombard.
Ritsema & Lyon, P.C., Paul D. Feld, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant Pueblo School District #60.
Taylor Anderson LLP, John M. Roche, Kevin S. Taylor, Jared E. Berg, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.
JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE ROY. J. Jones and Criswell*, JJ., concur.
* Sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice under provisions of Colo. Const. art. VI, § 5(3), and § 24-51-1105, C.R.S. 2010.
OPINION BY: ROY
Plaintiffs, Turene Lombard (invitee) and Pueblo School District #60 (school district), appeal from the judgment entered on a jury verdict and the order awarding costs in favor of defendants, Colorado Outdoor Education Center, Inc. and Sanborn Western Camps, Inc. (owners), in this action under section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2010 (premises liability act). We affirm the judgment, and affirm the order awarding costs in part and vacate it in part.
In February 2000 at the request of school district, invitee, a teacher employed by the district, attended an overnight [*2] training session which was held at a conference facility and resort owned and operated by owners. The resort had, among others buildings, eleven fourplex buildings, each unit of which had a main floor sleeping area, kitchenette, bathroom, and loft. Access to the loft was gained by a wooden ladder, with no handrails, that was fixed to the wall at the top and to the floor a distance from the wall at the bottom. In her unit, invitee climbed the ladder to the loft, which was equipped with a mattress, to read. She was injured when she fell descending the ladder.
Because invitee was within her scope of employment, she applied for and received substantial workers’ compensation benefits. Invitee and school district brought a joint action against owners under the premises liability act.
Owners filed, and the trial court granted, a motion for summary judgment on the ground that there was no evidence that they knew or should have known of a dangerous condition on their property. Invitee appealed, and a division of this court affirmed. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 179 P.3d 16 (Colo. App. 2007). On certiorari review, our supreme court reversed and remanded for trial. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 187 P.3d 565 (Colo. 2008) [*3] (Lombard).
At trial, invitee presented evidence of the fall and the injuries she sustained. Through expert testimony, she presented evidence that the applicable building code required a code-compliant staircase for access to an upper floor habitable space, and that the acceptance of a ladder as an alternative design was not permitted by the building code because a ladder is not as safe as a staircase. She argued that owners knew or should have known the ladder was dangerous because it allegedly violated the building code.
Owners presented evidence that (1) they had no actual notice that the ladder constituted a dangerous condition; (2) the plans for the unit depicting the ladder access to the loft were approved by the county building department, which administered the building code; (3) the county building department issued a certificate of occupancy following the completion of construction; and (4) they had never received reports of any incidents involving, or injuries resulting from, the use of the ladders in the twenty-four years since the construction of the first units. In addition, there was conflicting evidence from which owners argued that invitee was negligent in her use of [*4] the ladder, and that her negligence was the cause of her injuries.
Following a seven-day trial, a jury returned a verdict for owners and responded to interrogatories on the verdict form as follows:
Question No. 1: Did the [plaintiffs] have injuries, damages and losses?
Answer No. 1: Yes
Question No. 2: Did [owners] . . . actually know about a danger on their property or using reasonable care should have known about it?
Answer No. 2: No
Question No. 3: Did the [owners] fail to use reasonable care to protect against the danger on their property?
Answer No. 3: No
Question No. 4: Was the [owners’] failure a cause of the [invitee’s] injuries, damages or losses.
Answer No. 4: No
Owners sought costs jointly and severally against invitee and school district, which the trial court awarded. This appeal followed.
At the outset, we note that there was no dispute that invitee was a business invitee within the meaning of the premises liability statute and that she suffered injuries. Invitee’s arguments focus on the jury’s negative response to the second interrogatory. These arguments assert error with respect to (1) the instructions given or refused; (2) the trial court’s refusal to admit [*5] into evidence plans for units constructed after the unit in question, which characterized the loft as “storage”; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow invitee to call a third expert witness on the building code; and (4) the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that an owner’s duties under the premises liability act are not delegable.
I. Premises Liability Act and Negligence Per Se
Because this case involves the relationship, if any, between the premises liability act and the common law doctrine of negligence per se, we deem it appropriate to begin with a discussion of that relationship after our supreme court’s decision in Lombard.
Negligence is the failure to do an act a reasonably careful person would do, or the doing of an act which a reasonably careful person would not do, under the same or similar circumstances to protect oneself or others from bodily injury. Lawson v. Safeway, Inc., 878 P.2d 127, 130 (Colo. App. 1994); Woolsey v. Holiday Health Clubs & Fitness Centers, Inc., 820 P.2d 1201, 1204 (Colo. App. 1991). A person bringing a negligence claim must establish a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Redden v. SCI Colorado Funeral Services, Inc., 38 P.3d 75, 80 (Colo. 2001); [*6] Miller v. Byrne, 916 P.2d 566, 577 (Colo. App. 1995).
Negligence per se is a common law doctrine which provides that legislative enactments, such as statutes and ordinances, can prescribe the standard of conduct of a reasonable person, or duty, such that a violation of the statute or ordinance constitutes a breach of duty of care. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 573. A plaintiff may recover under a negligence per se theory if he or she can establish that the defendant violated the statutory standard of care, that the statutory standard of care was intended to protect against the injuries sustained, and that the violation was the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. Id. Negligence per se, therefore, serves to conclusively establish the defendant’s breach of a legally cognizable duty owed to the plaintiff. Id.
Section 13-21-115(3)(c)(I), C.R.S. 2010, establishes a standard of care owed by a property owner to an invitee: “an invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.” (Emphasis added.)
Lombard was decided in a summary judgment context. In that context, owners [*7] were required to show that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. C.R.C.P. 56(c). Invitee, therefore was tasked to show through affidavits and other materials that there was a genuine issue as to a material fact and did so by producing evidence sufficient to raise negligence per se.
In discussing negligence per se in the premises liability act context, our supreme court stated in pertinent part:
The language of the premises liability statute makes clear that a party may no longer bring a negligence per se claim against a landowner to recover for damages caused on the premises. The premises liability statute is broad reaching in its scope . . . .
[In Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 327 (Colo. 2004), we concluded that the premises liability statute’s] “express, unambiguous language . . . evidences the General Assembly’s intent to establish a comprehensive and exclusive specification of the duties landowners owe to those injured on their property.” 103 P.3d at 328. We noted that “the General Assembly indicated its intent to completely occupy the field and supersede the existing law in the area.” Id. As such, we concluded [*8] that “the plain language preempts prior common law theories of liability, and establishes the statute as the sole codification of landowner duties in tort.” Id. Thus, it would be entirely inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and the holdings of this court to bypass the [premises liability] statute and allow for the imposition of liability on the basis of a negligence per se claim. Consequently, we conclude that a plaintiff may recover against the landowner pursuant to the statute only and not under any other theory of negligence.
However, in addressing the premises liability statute, it is an entirely separate question whether proof of the landowner’s violation of a statute intended for the plaintiff’s protection is evidence of the landowner’s “unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care.”. . . . Consequently, although the premises liability statute has abrogated certain common law claims and defenses in the premises liability context, we do not find that the General Assembly has clearly expressed its intent to abrogate the common law principle that the violation of a statute is evidence of a failure to exercise due care. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 327 . . . .
In the [*9] absence of guiding legislative intent to the contrary, we conclude that the General Assembly did not intend to preclude a party from arguing that certain statutes and ordinances are relevant to establishing the standard of reasonable care, and thus that the violation of that statute or ordinance is evidence of a failure to exercise reasonable care.
. . . .
In sum, we hold that with respect to the statutory requirement regarding the landowner’s failure to exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff may overcome the landowner’s summary judgment motion by presenting evidence that the landowner violated a statute or ordinance. By necessity, this holding incorporates the common law’s requirement that the plaintiff show he is a member of the class the statute was intended to protect, and that the injuries he suffered were of the kind the statute was enacted to prevent.
Lombard, 187 P.3d at 574-75 (emphasis added)(additional citations omitted). Guided by this exposition, we address invitee’s arguments.
II. Jury Instructions
Invitee argues initially that the trial court erred in failing to deliver four instructions to the jury. We disagree.
A. Standard of Review
We review jury instructions de novo to [*10] determine whether the instructions as a whole accurately informed the jury of the governing law. Fishman v. Kotts, 179 P.3d 232, 235 (Colo. App. 2007). We consider the court’s instructions as a whole. Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Kerns, 172 Colo. 59, 63-64, 470 P.2d 34, 36-37 (1970). It follows that it is not error for the trial court to refuse a tendered instruction which correctly states an applicable legal proposition when the instructions given, taken as a whole, properly instruct the jury on that proposition. Id.; see also Underwood v. Dillon Cos., 936 P.2d 612, 615 (Colo. App. 1997).
Finally, Lombard is binding precedent and the law of the case. People v. Roybal, 672 P.2d 1003, 1005 (Colo. 1983) (citing Dando Co. v. Mangini, 107 Colo. 170, 172, 109 P.2d 1055, 1055-56 (1941); Morton v. Laesch, 52 Colo. 541, 125 P. 498 (1912); and Cache La Poudre Reservoir Co. v. Water Supply & Storage Co., 27 Colo. 532, 62 P. 420 (1900))(law of the case)); People v. Pahl, 169 P.3d 169, 176 (Colo. App. 2006)(binding precedent);.
B. Legal Presumption Instruction
Invitee tendered the following legal presumption instruction, which the trial court rejected:
Presumptions are legal rules based upon experience [*11] and public policy and established in the law to help the jury decide a case. If you find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ladder in [the unit in question] violated the Teller County Building Code, then you must find that the [owners] . . . knew or should have known that the ladder was a dangerous condition and that the [owners] failed to take steps to guard against that dangerous condition.
This proposed instruction by its terms would have created a conclusive presumption that, if the jury found there was a violation of a building code, owners were presumed to know not only of the violation but also that the violation constituted a dangerous condition within the meaning of the premises liability act, and that owners failed to take steps to guard against that dangerous condition. This proposed presumption instruction is contrary to the express holding and rationale of Lombard, which is that the violation of a statute or ordinance may be considered merely as “evidence of a failure to exercise reasonable care.” Lombard, 187 P.3d at 575 (emphasis added).
The trial court instructed the jury: “If you find that [owners] violated the applicable building code, you [*12] may consider that violation as evidence that [owners] failed to exercise reasonable care. You must consider all evidence regarding this issue in determining whether [owners] exercised reasonable care.”
The trial court further instructed the jury:
For the Plaintiffs . . . to recover . . . on their claims of premises liability, you must find all of the following have been proved by a preponderance of the evidence:
(1) The Plaintiffs had injuries, damages and losses;
(2) The Defendants actually knew about a danger on their property, or as persons or corporations using reasonable care, should have known about it;
(3) The Defendants failed to use reasonable care to protect against the danger of their property; and
(4) The Defendants’ failure was a cause of the Plaintiffs’ injuries, damages, or losses . . . .
These instructions correctly state the law under the common law and the premises liability act, and they are consistent with Lombard. That is, the jury could consider a building code violation as evidence that owners had failed to use reasonable care.
Therefore, the trial court did not err in rejecting the proposed legal presumption instruction.
C. Other Instructions
Invitee further argues that [*13] the trial court erred in rejecting the following proposed instructions:
(1) If the [owners] had to familiarize themselves with the Teller County Building Code in constructing [the unit in question], you may infer from that fact that the [owners] had or should have had notice that the ladder was a dangerous condition.
(2) The law requires the [owners] . . . to have known the requirement of the Teller County Building Code in effect at the time they built on their property any structures governed by the Code.
(3) If you find that [owners] or the Teller County Building Department knew or should have known that the ladder in question was a dangerous condition and failed to take reasonable steps to protect against it and that this dangerous condition resulted in [invitee’s] injuries, then you must find for the Plaintiffs on their claim for premises liability.
The first and third proposed instructions suffer from the same infirmity discussed above, that is, they equate knowledge of a violation of the building code with knowledge that the violation creates a dangerous condition within the meaning of the premises liability act. As invitee conceded in oral argument, however, not [*14] every violation of a building code results in a dangerous condition, or notice of a dangerous condition, within the meaning of the premises liability act.
The third rejected proposed instruction also suffers from a still more profound inconsistency with the law. It stated that if the county building department knew or should have known that the ladder constituted a dangerous condition, that knowledge would be imputed to owners, in presumably the same manner as notice to the officers, directors, employees, or contractors of owners is so imputed. Invitee has not provided, and we have not been able to find, any legal authority supporting this proposition.
The second proposed instruction is, standing alone, a correct statement of the law. However, the trial court sufficiently and correctly instructed the jury that (1) corporations can act only through their officers, employees, or agents; (2) any act or omission of an officer, employee, or agent of a corporation while acting within the scope of his or her employment is the act or omission the corporation; (3) a corporation knows a fact if it or its agents or employees have information that would lead a reasonable person to inquire further [*15] and that inquiry would have revealed that fact; and (4) parties are presumed to know the law applicable to their conduct, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.
In summary, the trial court did not err in rejecting the proposed instructions because the first and third were incorrect statements of the law and the jury was otherwise adequately and correctly instructed as to the second.
III. Evidentiary Rulings
Invitee next contends that the trial court erred in denying admission of a set of plans for the construction of units in 1990, and in prohibiting an expert witness endorsed by invitee from testifying. She further argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence a video demonstrating the use of the ladder because it had not been timely disclosed. We disagree with all three contentions.
A. 1990 Plans
A trial court has substantial discretion in deciding questions concerning the relevance and admissibility of evidence. Palizzi v. City of Brighton, 228 P.3d 957, 962 (Colo. 2010). Therefore, we will not disturb a trial court’s evidentiary ruling unless it constitutes an abuse of discretion. Id. A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is manifestly arbitrary, [*16] unreasonable, or unfair. Id.
At trial, invitee offered the 1990 building plans for lofts built in that year. Though the plans from which the loft in question was constructed showed a mattress in the loft implying that it was for occupancy, the 1990 plans designated the loft, as “storage space.” The trial court excluded the plans as irrelevant because they were drawn eight years after the unit at issue was constructed, and, relying on CRE 403, concluded that there was a significant chance that the plans could mislead the jury and confuse the issues.
Invitee argues that the 1990 plans put owners on notice that the unit in question here violated the building code, by showing a change in the designated use of the loft space. There was, however, ample evidence introduced through invitee’s expert witnesses that the ladder in the unit violated the building code at the time of its construction. Further the trial court instructed the jury that owners are required to follow the law, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and a violation of the building code is evidence that owners failed to exercise reasonable care.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying [*17] admission of the 1990 plans into evidence.
B. Expert Testimony
Next, invitee contends that the trial court erred in prohibiting her third endorsed expert witness on the building code from testifying. Before a trial scheduled in 2005, invitee endorsed three liability experts. Before the 2009 trial, owners filed a motion requesting that the trial court limit invitee to only one expert witness on each issue. The trial court denied the motion.
At trial, owners objected to the second building code expert testifying because the testimony would be cumulative. In overruling the objection, the trial court stated:
We spent the bulk of the day on the first [building code] witness. And I will tell you right now that if I do allow this testimony, it will be much more streamlined. Quite frankly, it — I’m going to rule on this as it comes, and if I find it to be cumulative, I will rule on it at the time. I’m not going to do it in advance. But I will put the parties on notice that we won’t be spending much time on these extra experts. So you prepare your direct accordingly, sir, because we simply don’t have time.
Invitee argued that the third expert’s testimony would not be cumulative because he was an [*18] architect with experience examining building plans, whereas her first two experts were not plan examiners. Ultimately, the trial court concluded that the nearly seven hours of expert testimony on the alleged building code violations were sufficient.
We see no abuse of discretion here. Invitee did not demonstrate in the trial court, and does not do so here, that the third building code expert’s testimony added anything substantive to the evidence. Invitee’s counsel conceded at trial that the testimony was cumulative, stating that the third expert merely had a different background than those of the first two experts. Therefore, so would go the argument, the third expert would bolster and corroborate the testimony of the first two or, in the alternative, the third expert’s testimony would be more credible than that of the first two because of his different experience.
On appeal, invitee also contends that the trial court’s refusal to let the third expert testify violates the law of the case doctrine because the trial court had previously denied owners’ motion limiting expert witnesses. However, rulings made in the course of ongoing proceedings are interlocutory and may be rescinded or modified [*19] during those proceedings on proper grounds. In re Bass, 142 P.3d 1259, 1263 (Colo. 2006).
Therefore, we see no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s refusal to permit the testimony of the third building code expert and conclude that invitee has failed to demonstrate any prejudice from that refusal.
Invitee next argues that the trial court erred in permitting owners to show to the jury a video recording of a person climbing up and down the ladder to one of the lofts. We disagree.
Whether to allow the use of models or other materials for the purpose of demonstration is a matter within the discretion of the trial court. Hampton v. People, 171 Colo. 101, 106, 465 P.2d 112, 114 (1970).
At the outset, we reject invitee’s law of the case argument for the reasons already stated.
Invitee filed a pretrial motion in limine requesting that the video (actually a collection of short videos) be excluded because it had not been timely disclosed. The trial court granted the motion, but later said it would reconsider the matter.
After the testimony of the first building code expert who had inspected the property, the trial court requested a copy of the video for review before ruling on whether [*20] to permit its use. At the time the video was offered, ten days after the trial court had indicated it would reconsider its admission, invitee argued for a mistrial, claiming that the admission of the video was prejudicial based on its untimely disclosure, not its content. Indeed, counsel stated, “I wouldn’t say that [the video is] prejudicial after review.”
In rejecting this argument, the trial court noted that invitee had been on notice for more than ten days that the court was going to review the video and make a decision on its admissibility. When the video was played for the jury, invitee cross-examined the witness and published to the jury several still images from the video.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the video.
Invitee next argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a mistrial after owners’ counsel implied during his examination of witnesses and in closing argument that any money judgment would be paid by owners, when, in fact, owners were well insured. We are not persuaded.
Evidence that a party did, or did not, carry liability insurance, is not admissible. CRE 411.
During the examination of [*21] witnesses and in closing argument, invitee’s counsel made contemporaneous objections and eventually a motion for mistrial after the three following statements by owners’ counsel: (1) “Well as the attorney for the camp that is going to have to pay that money,” (2) “My client [has] to pay millions of dollars in the case,” and (3) “Rely on what you know to be true about personal responsibility and personal choices, and award no damages to [invitee] or [school district] payable by my client.”
The trial court overruled all of the objections, commenting as to the first objection that the courtroom was in such bedlam that the court doubted the jury heard the statement. The trial court overruled the second and third objections and denied the motion for a mistrial without comment.
An attorney’s attempt to refer to insurance coverage or a lack thereof at trial is improper. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Dist. Court, 617 P.2d 556, 559-60 (Colo. 1980). We review evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. Palizzi, 228 P.3d at 962. A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair. Id.
In addition, “mere inadvertent or incidental mention [*22] of insurance [or the lack of insurance] before the jury does not automatically call for a mistrial; unless prejudice is shown, there is no reversible error in denying a mistrial.” Jacobs v. Commonwealth Highland Theatres, Inc., 738 P.2d 6, 12 (Colo. App. 1986). Indeed, “only when the mention of insurance occurs in a flagrant manner that clearly prejudices the rights of a [party] is the trial court’s denial of the motion for a mistrial reversible error.” Cook Investment Co. v. Seven-Eleven Coffee Shop, Inc., 841 P.2d 333, 335 (Colo. App. 1992).
We cannot say that any of these statements, taken individually or cumulatively, was flagrant. Nor do we perceive any prejudice to invitee. The trial court is ultimately in the best position to determine the effect on the jury of these types of comments.
Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
Invitee next argues that the award of costs for expert witness fees for witnesses who were not called at trial and photocopying of owners’ client file upon substitution of counsel was error. We disagree as to the expert witness, but agree as to the photocopy expense.
Generally, a trial court enjoys broad discretion in [*23] awarding costs, and we will not overturn such an award absent an abuse of discretion. Morris v. Belfor USA Group, Inc, 201 P.3d 1253, 1261 (Colo. App. 2008).
Here, after a hearing, the trial court entered a written order in which it concluded that, “the costs requested by the prevailing party . . . were reasonable and necessary and properly awardable against plaintiffs.”
A. Non-testifying Expert Witness
First, invitee argues that the cost of the expert witnesses who were retained for purposes of testimony, but who did not testify, should not have been awarded. However, costs are permitted for non-testifying experts hired to provide advisory or consulting services, Mgmt. Specialists, Inc. v. Northfield Ins. Co., 117 P.3d 32, 38-39 (Colo. App. 2004), and costs are permitted for experts who do not testify “because some extrinsic circumstance rendered their testimony unnecessary.” Clayton v. Snow, 131 P.3d 1202, 1203 (Colo. App. 2006).
In this case, the experts’ testimony was not proffered because owners’ counsel concluded that the cross-examination of invitee’s experts was sufficient. The trial court found that the advice and assistance of owners’ experts contributed to the cross-examination [*24] of invitee’s experts.
We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to award the costs of experts who were not called to testify.
B. Copying Owners’ Client File
Invitee also argues that the trial court erred in awarding owners’ costs for copying owners’ client file upon the discharge of owners’ first counsel. We agree.
Invitee relies, in part, on Colorado Bar Association Formal Ethics Opinion 104, Surrender of Papers to the Client upon Termination of the Representation (1999). That opinion deals with the obligation of an attorney upon termination of the representation to take reasonable steps to protect the client’s interests, including surrender of the client’s papers and property. While the analysis there is somewhat more extended, the fundamental premise of the opinion is that the client file is the property of the client and must be surrendered upon request. With respect to copying the client file prior to surrender, the opinion states, in part:
Numerous questions may arise concerning the costs of duplication of the papers and property at the time of delivery. Generally, consistent with recognition that the file must be surrendered to the client, absent agreement [*25] to the contrary, it is the lawyer’s responsibility to bear duplication costs if the lawyer believes that the lawyer should retain a copy. The fact that copies of documents may have been provided to the client previously does not eliminate the responsibility of the lawyer to provide the client with the file. If the lawyer wishes to keep copies of the documents to which the client is entitled, the lawyer can do so at his own expense.
While the Ethics Committee does not express opinions on the law, its guidance in this regard is, nevertheless, useful.
Here, owners, for whatever reason, voluntarily agreed to pay the discharged counsel the cost of photocopying the client file for the benefit or protection of counsel. Because owners agreed to pay that which they had no other obligation to pay, we conclude that we must vacate the order of the trial court awarding the cost of photocopying owners’ client file.
VI. School District’s Liability for Costs
School district contends that the trial court erred in awarding costs against it because it is a political subdivision of the state of Colorado and is exempt from an award of costs by C.R.C.P. 54(d). We agree.
C.R.C.P. 54(d) states that “costs shall [*26] be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs; but costs against the state of Colorado, its officers or agencies, shall be imposed only to the extent permitted by law.” (Emphasis added.)
School district, as a public school district, is a political subdivision of the state. Hazlet v. Gaunt, 126 Colo. 385, 397, 250 P.2d 188, 194 (1952).
In Waters v. District Court, 935 P.2d 981, 990 (Colo. 1997), an indigent parent’s appointed counsel brought a successful mandamus against the district court to compel payment of attorney fees incurred in the underlying action and requested an award of costs incurred in the mandamus action. In denying costs, our supreme court stated:
With regard to the State, we have interpreted these rules to mean that costs may be awarded against the State where there is an express legislative provision for costs against the State or where the State is in the position of a party litigant against whom costs are otherwise legislatively authorized to be awarded. See Bennett Bear Creek Farm Water & Sanitation Dist. v. City & County of Denver, 928 P.2d 1254, 1273-74 (Colo. 1996); Central Colo. Water v. Simpson, 877 P.2d 335, 349 (Colo. 1994); [*27] Passarelli v. Schoettler, 742 P.2d 867, 872 (Colo. 1987); Division of Employment & Training v. Turynski, 735 P.2d 469, 472-73 n.5 (Colo. 1987); Board of County Comm’rs v. Slovek, 723 P.2d 1309, 1313 (Colo. 1986); Lee v. Colorado Dep’t of Health, 718 P.2d 221, 228-29 (Colo. 1986). In this case, however, there exists no substantive legislative authorization for the award of costs separate from C.R.C.P. 59(d) and C.A.R. 39(b). The provision in CJD 89-3 for attorney fees and costs does not apply to Waters because she is representing herself, rather than her client, in this action. Thus, we find that the rationale of Central Colorado Water is applicable to this case, and we deny Waters’s request for costs in bringing this original proceeding.
935 P.2d at 990; see also Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Co. v. City of Golden, 113 P.3d 119, 130 (Colo. 2005). Merely showing that the state is in the position of a party-litigant is insufficient to award costs against the state under a general costs provision. Farmers Reservoir, 113 P.3d at 130.
Here, owners have sought costs under C.R.C.P. 54(d), section 13-16-105, C.R.S. 2010, and section 13-16-122, C.R.S. 2010.1 These provisions are general costs [*28] provisions.
1 Section 13-16-105 reads, “If any person sues in any court of record in this state in any action wherein . . . a verdict is passed against him, then the defendant shall have judgment to recover his costs against the plaintiff . . . and the same shall be recovered of the plaintiff or demandant, by like process as the plaintiff or demandant might have had against the defendant, in case judgment has been given for the plaintiff or demandant.” Section 13-16-122 lists some items recoverable as costs.
Owners argue that because the school district initiated the proceeding, it waived any immunity from costs. They cite Division of Employment & Training v. Turynski, 735 P.2d 469, 472 n.5 (Colo. 1987), in support of this argument. In the footnote, our supreme court stated, in pertinent part, that, “by appealing the industrial commission’s award of benefits to the court of appeals and by petitioning for certiorari from the court of appeals’ affirmance of the commission ruling, [the state agency] had waived immunity and caused the claimant to incur high costs.” Id. The court cited Lee v. Colorado Department of Health, 718 P.2d 221 (Colo. 1986), in which a successful litigant under the [*29] Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), §§ 24-10-101 to -120, C.R.S. 2010, recovered the each-person statutory limit on damages, which is inclusive of costs and interest of $150,000, and sought an award of costs against the department. The department’s insurance had a policy limit of $150,000 for each person and, in addition, a provision for the payment of costs and interest. The CGIA provided that if a public entity was insured with policy limits in excess of the statutory limit, the policy limits controlled. Our supreme court reversed the trial court’s award of costs but remanded for consideration of the applicability and scope of the insurance policy’s costs provision.
Lee is extremely limited in its scope, that is, the award of costs is limited by the insurance policy liability limits if higher than the statutory limit which includes costs and interest. Turynski, in our view, is not persuasive here because it arose in an administrative proceeding to which C.R.C.P. 54(d), section 13-16-105, and section 13-16-122, do not apply.
In addition, in interpreting Fed. R. Civ. P. 54, which is, for all practical purposes, identical to C.R.C.P. 54, federal courts have been clear that “in [*30] the absence of a statute directly authorizing it, courts will not give judgment against the United States for costs or expenses.” Walling v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., 162 F.2d 95, 96 (4th Cir. 1947) (quoting United States v. Worley, 281 U.S. 339, 344 (1930)). This is true even if the costs are incurred in an unsuccessful action brought by the United States. Id., (citing DeGroot v. United States, 72 U.S. 419 (1866)).2
2 The school district is bringing a subrogation claim as it is self-insured for workers’ compensation coverages. § 8-41-203, C.R.S. 2010. It has long been recognized that public entities acting in a proprietary capacity are treated the same as private corporations. See, e.g., City of Northglenn v. City of Thornton, 193 Colo. 536, 542, 569 P.2d 319, 323 (1977)(water utility); Bd. of County Comm’rs v. City of Fort Collins, 68 Colo. 364, 189 P. 929 (1920) (same); Valdez v. Moffat County, 161 Colo. 361, 423 P.2d 7 (1967)(hospital). The school district appears to be litigating in a proprietary capacity. We have not found any authority in which the governmental-proprietary distinction has been applied to the award of costs under C.R.C.P. 54(b) or [*31] similar rules in other jurisdictions.
We conclude the award of costs against school district must be vacated. Having so concluded, we need not address school district’s related argument that it was error to award costs against it on a joint and several basis with invitee.
The judgment is affirmed. The orders awarding costs for copying owners’ client file upon a change of counsel and awarding costs against school district are vacated, and the cost order is otherwise affirmed.
JUDGE J. JONES and JUDGE CRISWELL concur.