Understanding Premises Liability in Colorado and the Colorado Premises Liability Act
Premises liability in Colorado is an exclusive, statutory remedy for persons injured while on the property of another.[i] Generally, property owners should take reasonable steps to maintain the safety of their property. The levels of safety required vary as it depends on how the injured party is classified under the statute. Understanding how a person is classified under the statute is crucial to the scope of duties that person is owed by the property owner.
The Duty Owed to Third Parties Depends on the Circumstances
Property owners must maintain their premises to prevent defective or dangerous property conditions. If property owners allow such conditions to fester, they could face liability for injuries caused by the same.
Under Colorado's Premises Liability Act (“PLA”)[ii], the classification of the plaintiff must be determined to assess the duty owed by the property owner. The PLA classifies those injured on the property of another as trespassers, licensees, or invitees. The trial court must decide whether one is a “trespasser, licensee, or invitee” under the statute.[iii] Here are the differences:
- “Invitee” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or who enters or remains on such land in response to the landowner's express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.[iv] This is typically someone who visits a store, restaurant, or small business as a customer.
- “Licensee” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another for the licensee's own convenience or to advance the licensee's own interests pursuant to the landowner's permission or consent.[v] This definition also includes “social guest[s].”[vi]
- “Trespasser” means a person who enters or remains on the land of another without the landowner's consent.[vii]
- “Landowner” means an authorized agent or person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.[viii] This means that the definition of “landowner” under this statute is much broader than just the person who owns the property. This is useful as property management companies, vendors, tenants, contractors, or even event planners/organizers, may be liable for conditions on the property.
Duties Based on Classification
After the court classifies the plaintiff, different duties apply to each that the jury will apply when deciding liability and damages.
Below is a summary of when each classification may recover from the property owner:
- Invitee: only recover for damages caused by landowner's failure to use reasonable care to protect against dangers he actually knew about or should have known about.
- Licensee: only recover for damages caused
- by property owner's failure to use reasonable care concerning dangers he or she knew about; or
- the property owner's unreasonable failure to warn dangers he or she did not create and are not ordinarily present on the property.
- Trespasser: only recover for damages willfully or deliberately caused by the property owner.[ix]
The “reasonableness” of a landowner's conduct is dependent upon the condition and the foreseeability of the risk to the plaintiff. These cases are circumstantial; each case has its own facts that may change the analysis.
Importantly, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the common law “open and obvious” doctrine was abrogated when the PLA was enacted.[x] This means that landowners are under more stringent duties to notify visitors of dangers than previously required under common law. Specifically, landowners can no longer rely on the open and obvious doctrine as a defense to liability for open and obvious dangers apparent on their land. However, assumption of the risk and pro rata liability are defenses that are still available to defendants.
Examples of Defective Property Conditions in Colorado
In general, a person can reasonably expect a property to be safe for use and free from defective or dangerous conditions. Some common examples of defective property conditions that might cause injuries include:
- Icy or slippery floors
- Cracked or chipped flooring
- Broken stairs
- Loose or damaged carpet
- Broken or missing railings
- Uneven sidewalks
- Poor lighting conditions
- Defective equipment
- Pet bites
The PLA may be an appropriate remedy for any number of defective property conditions. However, it is important to remember that duties owed to third-parties are determined by statute. Thus, success on a potential claim depends on the facts and circumstances that lead to the injury.
Do You Need a Premises Liability Attorney in Colorado?
If you have been sued for premises liability, you need a legal defense, especially if you are self-insured or lack insurance coverage. On the flip side, if you have been injured on the property of another, you might be eligible for compensation. Regardless of what side you find yourself on in premises liability litigation, Volpe Law can help you navigate the insurance companies and the dispute. Fill out our online consultation request form or call us at (720) 441-3328 to request a free initial consultation.
[i] Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004).
[ii] C.R.S. § 13-21-115.
[iii] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(3).
[iv] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(7)(a).
[v] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(7)(c).
[vii] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(7)(d).
[viii] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(7)(b).
[ix] C.R.S. § 13-21-115(4)(a)-(c).
[x] Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004).