In a 2015 premises liability case ultimately heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, the defendant chose a unique defense by simply stating they were not the landowner. Colorado's Premises Liability Act was enacted to protect landowners from liability in situations not addressed by common law, and to define instances when liability is imposed. Premises liability essentially states that the landowner owes those on their property a duty to provide reasonable care from dangerous conditions. In this case, the defendant simply claimed they are not liable because they were not actually a landowner under the law.
Jordan v. Panorama Orthopedics
Plaintiff Barbara Jordan was leaving the medical facility when she tripped on an uneven sidewalk and sustained a concussion and an orbital fracture. She brought suit against Panorama (Pano), a large orthopedic clinic, citing their failure to exercise reasonable care to protect her from the dangerous condition. This large building is named the Pano Medical Campus, which in addition to their clinic, houses three other tenants. Pano's lease with the landlord designates them 25 parking lot spaces, and Pano has a general reception desk at the entrance to the facility.
The lease addressed the “common areas” within the site as being for the general non-exclusive use of tenants and others, which includes the sidewalks. The landlord is responsible for maintaining the common areas; thus Pano notifies them when maintenance concerns arise. The lease also contained an indemnity clause which makes Pano liable for risks of activity or conditions within the common areas.
This case challenged the Supreme Court to address a situation of statutory interpretation. Their goal is to interpret and determine the General Assembly's intentions based on the circumstances. A landowner under premises liability is defined as an agent or individual in possession of real property, and someone responsible for the condition of the property or activities conducted. The court ultimately determined that PANO was not the landowner based on these points:
- Pano had non-exclusive use of the common areas (sidewalk included) and the landlord had maintenance responsibility.
- No evidence was found that Pano could exclude anyone from such common areas, other than for their allotted parking spots.
- Pano did not have responsibility for regular maintenance of such areas according to their lease agreement; rather, the landlord specifically held those responsibilities.
- Although Pano alerted the landlord of maintenance concerns, they did not exert control within these areas.
- Pano didn't have a duty to repair the sidewalk and was not conducting any activity on the sidewalk where the plaintiff was injured.
- Pano did agree to indemnify the landlord in liabilities under the lease; however, it does not, therefore, define them as being a landowner.
If you have suffered an injury while upon the property of another party, you may have legal recourse. Colorado laws relating to premises liability hold property owners responsible for maintaining their property in reasonably safe conditions. In cases involving a slip and fall, remember to make the call to The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal.