In Colorado personal injury cases, if it is proven that the defendant was negligent, actual or compensatory damages may be awarded to the victim. These damages compensate the victim for their injuries and losses. The court also may award exemplary or punitive damages if it is determined that the defendant acted in a manner of fraud, malice, or willful and wanton disregard. The purpose of an exemplary award is to punish the defendant and deter others from acting similarly. What about defendant's who are aware of a dangerous condition but fail to correct the problem? More specifically, if a condition within your control has resulted in injuries to others in the past, when does negligence become willful, wanton, or reckless disregard?
Colorado Slip & Fall Case
Plaintiff Betty Jacobs was walking down an aisle at a theatre of Commonwealth Highland Theatres, Inc. (CHT) Jacobs slipped and fell on a step, resulting in a broken hip. There were two signs warning of the step, one which wasn't close to the actual step location, and another below eye level. The step was not lighted and ushers did not warn patrons of it. Jacobs had surgery for a fractured femur and was permanently disabled. The court awarded her $100,000 compensatory and $150,000 in exemplary damages, which CHT brought to the appeals court.
Evidence was introduced that similar falls on this step had occurred 10 prior times, some which led to injuries. The manager for the district was made aware of the incidents, yet actions to remedy it didn't occur. Doormen were supposed to warn patrons of the step; however, they were frequently transferred from their post to work in concessions. Evidence of other similar instances can't stand alone to prove negligence. This however indicated that the defendant's had knowledge of the dangerous condition which is a basis for a premises liability claim. The defendant's repeated failure to address the condition was also proven in other evidence. To award exemplary damages, the defendant must have exhibited wanton and reckless disregard. Here, the jury could reasonably determine based on the lack of corrective action taken that CHT's failure to do so was purposeful, thus exemplary damages would apply.
Negligence Becomes Purposeful
Here, the failure to act, or inaction of the defendant, was certainly negligent. Normally in these circumstances, the compensatory or actual damages would be the extent of courts ability to award. Due to the defendant's repeated (10 prior occurrences) disregard for correcting the situation, the court extended the exemplary damages. Their inaction occurred despite conscious and cognizant knowledge that injury would likely result.
Have you been injured due to the existence of a dangerous condition while on someone's property? Often it is the failure to take action, or inaction, of another party that can suddenly make you an injury victim. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has consistently stood up for Colorado injury victims and delivered financial justice to those harmed. Make the call to the office today for a complimentary case evaluation.