Four concertgoers who were injured in a 2011 rockfall incident will have another chance to hold the City of Denver and its iconic Red Rocks amphitheater responsible.
The concertgoers were struck by falling rocks at a Sound Tribe Sector 9 concert at Red Rocks in September 2011. They're suing the city of Denver, which owns Red Rocks, for failing to maintain the amphitheater. The lawsuit was the subject of a 2014 Westword cover story, "Rocks and Roll."
This month, the Colorado Court of Appeals partly reversed its previous order to dismiss the lawsuit. The appellate court previously found that Denver is protected from liability by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. The purpose of that law is to shield cities and counties that open natural spaces to the public from being held responsible for injuries caused by "natural conditions" of "unimproved property."
But there are exceptions. If a city knew about a dangerous condition at a public facility and didn't fix it, the city can be held responsible. The same goes for if the city knew about a dangerous condition at a public building.
The distinction between a public facility and public building is key in this case. The Court of Appeals, and the district court that originally heard the case back in 2013, only ever ruled on whether Red Rocks is a "public facility" and whether the rockfall was caused by Denver's failure to reasonably maintain it. The district court judge said yes. The appellate court said no. Neither addressed the question of whether Red Rocks is a "public building."
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Lawyers for the concertgoers asked the Court of Appeals for a rehearing. In an order issued earlier this month (on view below), the appellate court instead modified its previous ruling and remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to hold a hearing on the "public building" issue.
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"If you look up the definition of a building in the law, it's not confined to four walls and a roof," says Sam Ventola, one of the attorneys representing the concertgoers. "A building is anything that is unnaturally built up above the ground." That includes the Red Rocks amphitheater, he says.
The new hearing in district court has not yet been scheduled.
Read the recent Court of Appeals ruling below.