Although Jefferson County insisted its parking lot was not a “public building” and therefore the county could not be sued under Colorado law for a woman’s injuries. , the state’s second-highest court denied those claims on Thursday.
Colorado’s Governmental Immunity Act generally protects public entities from civil liability to prevent taxpayer dollars from being diverted to lawsuits and to ensure that government officials can continue to provide services. There is an exception, however, if a person is injured due to an “unsafe condition of any public building”.
A three-judge Court of Appeals panel determined that a two-level parking garage in the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building is itself a building under ordinary and statutory definitions of the word.
“More fundamentally, while we accept the county’s position that a public parking structure — such as a public parking lot — may be a ‘public facility,'” Judge Anthony J. Navarro wrote in the July 21 opinion, “We reject the idea that a public parking structure cannot also be a ‘public building’.”
The appeal ruling allows Beverly Stickle to continue her lawsuit against Jeffco for injuries she sustained in the garage.
On February 6, 2018, Stickle went to the courthouse to serve a ticket. She used the north parking structure, a triangle-shaped garage with parking on the second level. Drivers can then descend the stairs to the campus, which also houses the sheriff’s department, jail, and other government buildings.
When Stickle returned to her car, she walked up the stairs to the second level. On the upper landing was a dark gray walkway, with a descent to the car park – painted the same color of gray. The elevation change was marked with yellow paint, which was more evident when looking from the field towards the landing.
From the catwalk, however, the identical grays created an illusion obscuring the descent. Stickle fell and suffered an open fracture to her right arm.
She sued Jefferson County, which countered that it was immune from liability under Colorado’s governmental immunity law. He disputed that the parking lot meets the law’s definition of a “public building” or that the descent is an unsafe condition.
After a hearing, during which there was testimony about others falling into the garage because of the delusion of resignation, District Court Judge Russell B. Klein sided with Jeffco.
“Defendants argue that the rooftop is just another parking lot,” he wrote in March 2021. “However, decisions about how to use rooftop space should not be determinative of whether a structure is a “building” any more than the construction of a roof terrace or a roof garden would prevent a structure from being a building.”
To demonstrate that the garage exhibited an unsafe condition, Stickle had to show that the descent hazard resulted from the county’s actions or inability to act during the construction or maintenance of the facility. Although Klein ruled out that the hazard stemmed from the maintenance of the garage, he suggested that building the walkway and parking lot using the same paint color met the criteria for an unsafe condition.
The county turned to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the coloring obscuring the reduction was the result of design, not construction. Jeffco also disputed Klein’s conclusion that the north parking structure was a building.
“None of the distinguishing characteristics that make a structure a building exist in this case. The north parking structure is simply one level of an open parking lot stacked on top of another level of a parking lot – and nothing more,” the county attorney wrote. Desk.
Stickle’s attorneys observed that Jefferson County witnesses testified in district court that the resurfacing of the garage’s second level was in fact part of a maintenance project.
“These same witnesses confirmed that the purpose of resurfacing the parking structure was to prevent water and chemical ingress from damaging the parking structure. This falls squarely within the definition of maintenance under the CGIA,” wrote Thomas A. Bulger.
The appeal panel agreed with Klein’s reasoning that the garage was a public building. He differed slightly in finding, as argued by Stickle’s attorney, an unsafe condition existed due to the maintenance of the garage. The evidence, Navarro wrote, showed the county chose the surfacing material for the walkway and parking lot to prevent further decline or failure of the material — which fell under the category of maintenance.
The case is Stickle c. Jefferson County.