The Colorado Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit in which four concertgoers claimed they were injured by falling rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheatre because of Denver's negligence. The decision is a victory for the City of Denver, but a loss for the people who were hurt in the 2011 incident.
The lawsuit was the subject of a 2014 Westword cover story, "Rocks and Roll." The story explained how in September 2011, at least seven people were struck by falling rocks at Red Rocks during the encore of a Sound Tribe Sector 9 show. Some of them were badly injured; David Scheuermann needed seventeen staples to close the gash in his head, and he still has a dent in his skull.
He and three others sued the City of Denver, which owns Red Rocks, alleging that the city hadn't properly maintained the stone monoliths that flank the amphitheater and give the venue its signature sound: Even though engineers recommended that Red Rocks do maintenance every year, city officials decided to do it every three years instead.
Attorneys for Denver argued that the city shouldn't be held liable because it's protected under a law known as the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. The purpose of the law is to encourage cities and counties to open natural spaces to the public without the fear that they'll be responsible for injuries caused by "natural conditions" of "unimproved property." The city asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.
But attorneys for the concertgoers argued that Red Rocks is no longer "natural" or "unimproved" because the city has maintained the rocks over the years by, for example, removing some loose ones and bolting others in place. In 2013, a Jefferson County District Court judge (Red Rocks is in Jeffco) agreed with them and declined to dismiss the lawsuit.
The city appealed that decision, and the Colorado Court of Appeals came to the opposite conclusion. In an opinion released today, the court sided with Denver and dismissed the lawsuit.
"We are sympathetic to plaintiffs' concerns, and we do not discount the severe nature of their injuries," the justices wrote. "To hold that Denver waived immunity due to its rock-mitigation measures, however, 'would be contrary to the public health and safety' because it would discourage Denver from undertaking any safety measures whatsoever."
The appellate judges relied heavily on a recent Colorado Supreme Court decision that found that a woman who was injured when a tree branch fell on her campsite in Cherry Creek State Park does not have the right to sue. Even though the state park had pruned the tree — just like Red Rocks bolted the rocks — the high court found that the immunity law still applies.
We've contacted the attorneys for the concertgoers and will update this story if and when we hear back. In the meantime, read the appeals court's decision below.