PARK COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — An amendment to a bill that would protect landowners from being sued by recreationists who are injured while on their land was rejected by lawmakers and could have an impact on the access to some of Colorado’s most popular 14ers.
History of private landowner liability
SB23-103 was proposed as an update to the Colorado Recreational Use Statute on Jan. 31.
The original text of the CRUS protected landowners who opened up their property for public access from being sued for injuries incurred on their land. The bill outlines that landowners could be found liable in instances of “willful or malicious” failure to those recreating on their property.
However, that “willful or malicious” wording came to a head in a 2019 verdict.
According to the Nelson vs. United States court case, a Colorado Springs mountain biker was seriously injured while on private property on the U.S. Air Force Academy land. The man sued the academy, and the landowner was found liable for $7 million worth of damages due to the fact that the owner “willfully” ignored the dangerous conditions that the washed-out path imposed to the biker.
Many private landowners became weary of allowing access to their land after this decision in fear of being sued.
The 2023 amendment to CRUS was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Baisley and Republican Rep. Mike Lynch and worked to limit the landowner’s liability for damages by striking the term”willful” from the CRUS and requiring that injuries can only be found as “malicious.”
However, that bill was rejected by lawmakers on March 1. Those in support of protecting public access to private land have started a petition.
How does this rejection affect 14ers?
Hiking one 14,000-foot Colorado mountain, let alone all 58, is a goal for many mountain and hiking enthusiasts. However, access to those summits is in jeopardy after legislatures rejected SB23-103.
According to sponsor Baisley, 56.7% of Colorado is privately owned, and that includes 14ers. Several 14ers are fully privately owned or cross into private land.
Now that lawmakers killed a bill that would further protect landowners from liability, one man who owns three Colorado 14er peaks says he will close access to hikers. John Reiber, who owns Mount Democrat and Mount Lincoln in the popular Decalibron Loop, told the Colorado Sun he plans to close the 14ers now that he doesn’t have regulatory support.
For many private landowners, the risk is greater than the reward, and without support from lawmakers, more and more 14ers could be off limits.
Baisley said SB23-103 was supported by more than 25 outdoor recreation groups and open space advocates, but that wasn’t enough to pass in the Colorado Judiciary Committee.
According to the Colorado Sun, Baisley said he will revisit the legislation next year and work to find a compromise on amending CRUS.