August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Summary Judgment Inappropriate Where Reasonable Security Measures May Have Prevented Harm from Gunman

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wagner v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. on Thursday, February 21, 2019.

Premises Liability—Summary Judgment.

Dear drove into the parking lot of the Colorado Springs clinic operated by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), a member of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (PPFA) and shot several people in the parking lot, two of whom died. He then entered the clinic and wounded several more people. When police arrived he engaged in a lengthy gun battle, killing one officer and wounding five others.

Plaintiffs were the victims or survivors of other victims killed by Dear. Plaintiffs alleged they were invitees of PPRM under Colorado’s Premises Liability Act (CPLA). They also filed a common law negligence claim against PPFA, asserting PPFA controlled PPRM. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of PPRM and PPFA on both claims.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued it was error to grant summary judgment in favor of PPFA because there was a genuine issue of material fact whether PPFA’s control over PPRM created a duty of care owed by PPFA to plaintiffs. This was a nonfeasance case, where the existence of a duty is recognized only in situations involving a limited group of special relationships between the parties. Here, the trial court correctly found that no such special relationship existed, that PPFA merely exercised discretion and not control over PPRM, and that it was not the owner or possessor of the land associated with the clinic. The court did not err in concluding that PPFA owed no duty to plaintiffs and in granting PPFA’s summary judgment motion.

Plaintiffs next argued that the trial court erred in concluding as a matter of law that Dear’s actions were the predominant cause of the injuries and deaths and in granting summary judgment to PPRM on that basis. Plaintiffs claimed they tendered sufficient evidence to raise genuine issues of material fact whether PPRM knew of reasonable security measures that would have prevented harm to the victims, and PPRM was sufficiently aware of the potential for criminal conduct against its clinics to prepare for the types of offenses Dear committed. Here, it was undisputed that the injured parties were invitees and PPRM was a landowner under the CPLA. The issue before the Court of Appeals was whether there was a genuine dispute of fact whether PPRM knew or should have known of the danger faced by the invitees. Plaintiffs presented evidence suggesting the risk of an active shooter incident in a Planned Parenthood facility like PPRM, especially one providing abortions, was not unknown. The Court found that there was enough of a dispute on this issue of material fact that it should go to a jury.

The summary judgment in favor of PPFA was affirmed. The summary judgment in favor of PPRM was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Under Rescue Doctrine, Plaintiff Must Have Physically Intervened to Stop Altercation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co., LLC on Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Negligence—Personal Injury—Common Carrier/Passenger Relationship—Duty of Care—Rescue Doctrine.

A passenger in one of Colorado Cab Company’s taxis got into an altercation with the cab driver, Yusuf. Garcia, who thought the cab was the one for which he had called, approached the cab, told the passenger to leave Yusuf alone, and told them to stop fighting. Ultimately, the passenger assaulted Yusuf and Garcia and stole the taxi. The passenger then hit Garcia with the taxi, ran him over, and dragged him down the street.

Garcia suffered extensive injuries and sued Colorado Cab for negligence. Colorado Cab moved for summary judgment, arguing that it didn’t owe Garcia a duty of care and that any breach of such duty did not proximately cause Garcia’s injuries as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Colorado Cab moved twice for a directed verdict, based on the same reasoning in the summary judgment motion, and the district court denied those motions. A jury found for Garcia, and the district court entered judgment against Colorado Cab. The district court denied Colorado Cab’s subsequent motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On appeal, Colorado Cab argued that the district court erred in determining that it owed Garcia a duty of care. In this case, Garcia alleged that Colorado Cab’s failure to take safety measures caused his injuries, which is nonfeasance (the defendant’s failure to prevent harm). In such cases, a duty exists only if there is a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, which, as relevant here, is a common carrier/passenger relationship. No evidence showed that Garcia was a passenger or prospective passenger of the cab, so as a matter of law, there was no common carrier/passenger relationship between Garcia and Colorado Cab. Further, Garcia does not fall under the “rescue doctrine,” which extends a defendant’s liability to a plaintiff who attempts to rescue someone (1) to whom the defendant owed a duty, and (2) who was in danger because of the defendant’s negligence. Here, although Yusuf was in imminent peril, there was no evidence in the record that Garcia attempted to physically intervene. Therefore, there was no basis for extending any duty to Garcia, and the district court erred in denying Colorado Cab’s directed verdict and post-trial motions.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to enter judgment in Colorado Cab’s favor.

Summary provided courtesy ofColorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Dog Owner Owes No Duty of Care to Child who was Scared by Dogs and Ran Into Street

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in N.M. v. Trujillo on Monday, June 26, 2017.

Negligence—Duty of Care—Nonfeasance—Special Relationships—C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5).

This case required the supreme court to determine whether respondent, a dog owner, owed a duty of care to petitioner, a child who became frightened when respondent’s dogs rushed at respondent’s front yard fence and who, although not touched by the fenced-in dogs, ran into the street and was struck and injured by a passing van. Because petitioner’s negligence claim against respondent was predicated on alleged nonfeasance, or failure to act, and because the case is distinguishable from cases in which a dangerous or vicious animal attacks and directly injures someone, petitioner was required to plead a special relationship between himself and respondent to establish the duty of care necessary to support his negligence claim. Petitioner did not, however, plead such a special relationship. Accordingly, the court concluded that, as a matter of law, respondent owed no duty of care to petitioner and thus the district court properly dismissed petitioner’s negligence claim against respondent. The court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Hotel Has Duty of Reasonable Care to Intoxicated Guests During Lawful Eviction

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh on Monday, April 13, 2015.

Summary Judgment—Negligence—Innkeeper–Guest Special Relationship—First Impression Duty of Care During Eviction—Colorado Dram Shop Act.

Through her parents, Jillian Groh sought to hold the Westin Hotel responsible for serious injuries she sustained in a drunk-driving accident following a lawful eviction from the Westin. The Westin filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The court of appeals initially affirmed the summary judgment order. The court of appeals then granted Groh’s petition for rehearing. A different panel withdrew the first court of appeals opinion, held that a hotel has a duty to evict a guest “in a reasonable manner,” and reversed the summary judgment order with respect to Groh’s claims of negligence and negligent hiring and training.

For the first time, the Supreme Court examined the duty of care a hotel owes a guest during a lawful eviction. Based on the special relationship that exists between an innkeeper and guest, the Court held that a hotel that evicts a guest has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. This requires the hotel to refrain from evicting an intoxicated guest into a foreseeably dangerous environment. Whether a foreseeably dangerous environment existed at the time of eviction depends on the guest’s physical state and the conditions into which he or she was evicted, including the time, the surroundings, and the weather. In this case, genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on Groh’s negligence-related claims.

The Court also considered whether the Dram Shop Act of the Colorado Liquor Code, CRS § 12-47-801, applies to this case. The Court concluded that the Act does not apply because it is undisputed that the Westin did not serve alcohol to Groh. Consequently, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Hotel Owes Intoxicated Guest Duty of Care; Summary Judgment Reversed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Groh v. Westin Operators, LLC on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Negligence—Hotel Contract—Duty of Care—Reasonableness—Breach—Proximate Cause.

Plaintiff Jillian Groh appealed the summary judgment entered in favor of defendant Westin Operator, LLC (Westin). The judgment was reversed in part and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

The Westin asked Groh and her guests to leave the hotel after Groh and her friends, who were intoxicated, became loud in the hotel. After Westin employees escorted Groh and her friends out of the front entrance to the hotel, one of Groh’s friends, who was also intoxicated, attempted to drive them home and rear-ended a vehicle that was traveling well below the speed limit. Groh sustained severe and permanent injuries.

On appeal, Groh argued that the Westin did not act reasonably in evicting Groh and her friends from the hotel, and that the trial court abused its discretion in granting summary judgment to Westin on her negligence claim. A hotel must evict a guest in a reasonable manner, which precludes ejecting a guest into foreseeably dangerous circumstances resulting from either the guest’s condition or the environment.

Here, a jury could find that the Westin set in motion the chain of events that led to Groh’s injury by entering her room without permission; deciding to evict her notwithstanding the absence of any complaints from other guests; and then—despite knowing that she was intoxicated and was accompanied by others who were as well—escorting her from the premises rather than allowing her to wait for a taxi in the lobby, a public area. Therefore, although the Westin properly terminated its contract with Groh and then could evict her, the disputed facts and favorable inferences in the record preclude finding, as a matter of law, that it did so in a reasonable manner. Because a reasonable jury could find a breach of this duty on the present record, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Westin on Groh’s negligence claim.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Hotel Had No Duty to Detain Intoxicated Patron and Therefore Not Responsible for Subsequent Motor Vehicle Accident

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Groh v. Westin Operator LLC on Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Duty of Care—Innkeeper–Guest Relationship—Summary Judgment—Nonfeasance.

Plaintiff Jillian Groh appealed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant Westin Operator, LLC (Westin). The judgment was affirmed.

Groh and eleven of her friends spent an evening visiting bars in Denver and consuming alcohol. After the bars closed, the group gathered in a room of the Westin Hotel in downtown Denver, owned and operated by Westin. Groh had reserved the room in advance and was the only registered guest.

Around 2:45 a.m., a Westin security guard heard noises and investigated. He told Groh that she and the others needed to quiet down. Groh acquiesced, but the guard entered the room and told the others to be quiet, as well. Groh argued with him, claiming he wasn’t allowed to enter the room without her permission. The guard then re-entered the room and said everyone had to leave. Members of the group protested that the room had been rented so they could avoid having to drive after drinking.

Eventually, the manager was called. He determined that Groh could stay but that the others had to leave. Groh said that if her friends had to leave, she would leave too. For purposes of a summary judgment motion only, Westin conceded that Groh was evicted.

Several friends left and were not involved in the subsequent events. A little after 3:00 a.m., Groh and the remaining friends left the hotel. Groh called her brother and he advised her to take a taxi home. It was cold out, but the guard refused to let the party re-enter the Westin. Groh and the group then walked into a parking garage and, notwithstanding passing a taxi, one friend, Angela Reed, offered to drive. Groh gave her the keys to her PT Cruiser, which had five seatbelts. Seven people got it. Reed was the only one who used her seatbelt.

Around 4:00 a.m., on northbound I-225, Reed crashed into a slow-moving vehicle towing a vehicle with a flat tire. One passenger died; the others sustained injuries. Groh sustained severe injuries that left her in a persistent vegetative state. Reed’s blood alcohol content was estimated at between 0.170 and 0.222 at the time of the accident. She was charged with several felonies.

Groh, individually and by and through her guardians and conservators,brought negligence and breach of contract claims against the Westin. The district court granted summary judgment for the Westin. Groh appealed.

Groh argued that the Westin had a common law duty to protect her and prevent her from driving while intoxicated. Thus, the question was whether the Westin owed Groh a duty of care to take reasonable measures to protect her against the injury she sustained. Groh was injured as the result of riding as a passenger, without a seatbelt, in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated driver. In her fourth amended complaint, Groh contended the Westin had a duty to determine whether it was safe for her to drive home. The Court characterized this as a claim of nonfeasance on the part of the Westin.

The Colorado Supreme Court, in University of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54, 56 (Colo. 1987), analyzed the requirements of making out a claim of nonfeasance. Nonfeasance requires a special relationship, one of which is innkeeper to guest. However, once an individual ceases to be a guest of a hotel, the special relationship is terminated. Here, Groh was lawfully evicted because she breached her contract by having too many people stay in her room. Once evicted, the innkeeper–guest relationship terminated. Because there was no special relationship, there was no duty of care to take affirmative action to prevent the injury Groh sustained.

Groh also argued that the Westin was responsible under the assumed duty of care doctrine. Under this doctrine, “a party may assume duties of care by voluntarily undertaking to render service.” Here, the record did not contain evidence demonstrating that the scope of any such assumed duty would be so broad as to include preventing a former guest from being injured while riding as a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated driver.

Finally, Groh argued it was error to rule that she breached her contract with the Westin, because the Westin waived any such claim when she was given three keys when she checked in. She cited no authority, and the Court found none, that would support such an argument. The summary judgment in favor of the Westin was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.