Panel kills bill seeking to bolster liability law in favor of landowners

Landowners who see children trespass on their property to play in a pond or other water feature will have to rely on common law to protect them if there’s an accident.

That’s because the House Judiciary Committee killed a measure Thursday that would have freed landowners from being held liable in lawsuits for a child’s medical bills if they injure themselves.

Rep. Kathleen Curry, an independent from Gunnison, said even though the common law known as “attractive nuisance” covers such matters, her intent in introducing the measure was to make it clear that landowners who take reasonable steps to guard against incidents aren’t responsible for a trespasser’s injuries.

Six of the 11 committee members disagreed, saying because of that common law and court precedent over several centuries, Curry’s bill is unnecessary.

“I don’t understand their reasoning,” a frustrated Curry said immediately after the vote. “Common law has evolved, and this would be another level of evolution to deal with today’s world.”

She said even though common law is on their side, landowners often are sued, and their insurance companies routinely settle cases out of court, which leads to higher premiums for them.

Curry said she knew early in the day that her House Bill 1086 was in trouble with some committee members, but two hours of testimony from landowners from around the state wasn’t enough to persuade them.

“This is a risk the landowners shouldn’t have to bear, because they didn’t cause the injury,” she said.

Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Denver, said Curry had asked the same question that landowners have posed for hundreds of years. In that time, however, a substantial amount of case law has been established to answer it without the need of passing an actual law, he said.

“I think it would be inadvisable for us ... to overturn the considered judgment of hundreds of years of cases and caseload,” Kagan said.

Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction and a member of the committee who supported the bill, said at some point common law becomes established law, and it should be put in the state’s statutes.

“I have seen children water-boarding on our waterways, I have seen them tubing, I have seen them waterskiing behind four-wheelers,” King told the committee. “The way that we keep track of our water ... wasn’t around 200 years ago. Times have changed.”


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