The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Reid v. Berkowitz on Thursday, February 25, 2016.
Default Judgment—Premises Liability Act—Negligence—Exclusivity of Remedies.
Reid sustained injuries after falling through an unsecured guardrail at a construction site where Berkowitz was the general contractor. There were also subcontractors at the site. Reid sued Berkowitz, a landowner as defined by the Colorado Premises Liability Act (PLA). Berkowitz answered, made a jury demand, and designated the subcontractors as nonparties at fault. Reid amended his complaint to add claims of negligence against the subcontractors and named them as defendants.
The district court entered defaults against the subcontractors after they failed to answer and, after a damages hearing, the court entered judgments against them. The court made no findings on whether Berkowitz was vicariously liable for the judgments against the subcontractors.
The PLA claim against Berkowitz proceeded under a different judge to a jury trial at which the default judgments were not mentioned to the jurors. The jury awarded Reid damages, but despite Berkowitz’s request, was not instructed to apportion fault to the subcontractors nor to evaluate Reid’s comparative negligence.
On a prior appeal of the jury verdict, the Court of Appeals agreed that refusing the apportionment instruction was error but concluded the error was harmless because the subcontractors fault was imputable to Berkowitz, who had a nondelegable duty of care to Reid. The Court ordered a retrial solely on the issue of Reid’s comparative negligence, and a second jury allocated the fault 90% to Berkowitz and 10% to Reid. Berkowitz paid the amount awarded.
Reid then moved for declaratory relief, requesting that the district court find Berkowitz liable for 90% of the default judgments entered against the subcontractors, plus simple interest. After a hearing, the court held Berkowitz liable for the entirety of the default judgments with compound interest.
On appeal, Berkowitz argued multiple theories in support of his assertion that the court erred in finding him liable for the amount of the default judgments entered against the subcontractors. The sole argument the Court addressed was whether Berkowitz could be simultaneously liable for damages as a landowner under the PLA and vicariously liable for a default judgment under negligence theories against his subcontractors. Based on the unambiguous language of the statute, the Court held that the PLA is an exclusive remedy against a landowner for injuries that occur as a result of conditions, activities, or circumstances on his property.
The judgment and orders were reversed and the case was remanded to vacate the judgments against Berkowitz.