South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Statute Determines Extent of Premises Liability
Description Colorado high court held that a state statute that defined premises liability supersedes the traditional common law definitions, so premises liability cases must be determined under the standard of care provided in the statute.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Premises Liability; Duty of Care; Trespasser; Invitee; Licensee; Statute
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Vigil, mildly retarded, worked on the Franklins' property as a laborer for the Arkansas Valley Community Center for Handicapped and for Retarded Persons, which provided him job training and work experience. The Franklins contracted with the Center for yard work. While there, Vigil decided to swim in the Franklin's pool without permission. He dove in, broke his neck, and was rendered quadriplegic. He sued the Franklins. The trial court and appeals court dismissed Vigil's suit, noting that the swimming pool was an open and obvious danger, and the Franklins did not owe Vigil any duty of care. He appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. The Colorado legislature enacted a premises liability statute that classifies those injured on the property of another as trespassers, invitees, or licensees. Trespassers may recover only for damages willfully caused by the landowner. Licensees are given greater protection and may recover only for damages caused by the landowner's unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner or by the landowner's unreasonable failure to warn of dangers that are not ordinarily present on property. Invitees may recover for damages caused by the landowner's unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he knew or should have known. These statutory definitions preempt common law duties and should have been applied by the lower courts. The open and obvious danger defense does not exist under the statute. Hence, the case is remanded to be considered in light of the statutory definitions of premises liability.

Citation Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Sup. Ct., Colo., 2004)

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