Outdoor recreation closures in Colorado

The Real Problem with Outdoor Recreation Closures in Colorado

In a recent op-ed in the Colorado Sun, the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association (CTLA) tried to absolve themselves of any blame for the recent outdoor recreation closures in Colorado. They pointed the finger at insurance companies, claiming that the insurers are scaring landowners and acting only for their profit margins. But is that the whole story? Or is the CTLA attempting to scapegoat insurance companies while ignoring genuine concerns?

The Blame is not Just on Insurance Companies

The CTLA presents the issue as if it’s merely a battle between insurance companies and landowners, completely overlooking the broader concerns. Many in the legal community, landowners across the state, and non-profits like Colorado Fourteeners Initiative agree that a recent lawsuit has created new, unanswered legal questions. These questions, which revolve around the meaning of the phrase ‘willful or malicious,’ pose real risks to landowners in a way they didn’t previously.

The issue is not just about one successful lawsuit but about the implications it has on the existing statutes. The CTLA’s opposition to any changes in the law, even though multiple areas are closing, is concerning.

Southern Colorado 14ers: Mount Lindsey
Mt Lindsey remains closed to access due to landowners concerns - not insurance premiums.

The False Security of the Current Law

The CTLA’s argument that the existing law is a balanced solution doesn’t hold water. The recent closures suggest that the law isn’t encouraging owners to post warnings – it’s encouraging them to post no trespassing signs. This frees them from liability risk but leaves thousands of unsuspecting hikers without safety expectations.

Many report in surveys they didn’t realize they were trespassing, hiking on unmaintained trails, near rugged mining tunnels and remains that collapse periodically without warning. This is not just a legal issue but a massive public safety concern.

The Real Threat to Landowners

The CTLA claims that the current law has worked well for a generation. However, the reality is that the landowners do not feel entirely protected from liability, which was the original purpose of the CRUS. The very fact that liability insurance is deemed necessary undercuts their argument that landowners are safe.

If landowners felt truly protected from liability, liability insurance would be unnecessary. But they don’t, and the blame for this can be squarely placed on the CTLA, not just insurance companies. Additionally, Mt. Lindsey closed more than two years ago due to liability concerns among its owners, long before insurance rates started to spike.

The Kite Lake 14ers are open temporarily thanks to a liability waiver system.

Attacking Insurance Companies Isn’t the Solution

The recent opinion piece by the CTLA paints a one-sided picture that fails to address the real problems faced by landowners, hikers, and the community at large. It’s time to look beyond the simplified narrative that it’s just the insurance companies at fault.

By refusing to address genuine concerns and ignoring the call for a balanced solution, the CTLA is doing a disservice to the outdoor enthusiasts they claim to represent. They may claim to be advocates for public safety and access, but their stance on this issue reveals a lack of responsibility and a willingness to ignore the very real risks that outdoor recreation closures in Colorado are posing to both landowners and the public.

Join Us and Help Protect Outdoor Recreation Access in Colorado

It’s time for a real dialogue and thoughtful changes to ensure that the genuine concerns of all stakeholders are addressed, not just the interests of the legal community. After all, the beauty of Colorado’s outdoors should be something we all can enjoy, responsibly and safely. The Fix CRUS Coalition is working hard to make this happen – we encourage you to join us in this fight.

To learn more and support this mission, visit www.fixCRUS.org.

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Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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2 Responses

  1. Blaming the Trial Lawyers is like blaming doctors for cancer. What next, blame umbrella salespeople for bad weather?

    1. Hey Steve, thanks for the comment. When a group, like the CO Trial Lawyers Association, lobbies aggressively to shut down a solution because they actively profit from the status quo – then most people would agree that they are to blame for maintaining the status quo.

      After one of the Colorado 14ers closed to the public due to liability risk this spring, the CTLA refused to acknowledge there was a problem with the law and instead blamed the landowners. A bipartisan group of 32 organizations introduce SB-103, a bill to change one word and address the situation. The CTLA was the only group opposed, and shut down the legislation using their lobbyists. Within one month, four more peaks closed, more trails starting to require waivers, and the Leadville 100 nearly did not happen. Now that the landowners have restored access and look good in the public eye – the CTLA is switching their story to attack insurance companies instead – another attempt to shift blame.

      The Trial Lawyers Association did not create legal liability risk, no more than doctors create cancer risk – but the CTLA shut down efforts to find a solution by reducing that liability risk while denying there were problems that needed to be addressed – even though multiple attorneys and liability legal experts fiercely disagreed with them in legislative hearings.

      That makes them squarely to blame for the problem we face today. Had they not opposed SB-103, it would have passed, and the 14ers would be open right now.

      In other words: If doctors were the only group to vote against an anti-smoking law – so that more people keep getting cancer and they can make money treating them – I would say that doctors would be partially to blame for the result, since they blocked the solution. If umbrella salesmen opposed climate change mitigation policies because they wanted it to rain more so they could profit – then yes, umbrella salesmen would be partially to blame for the rain. In this case, attorneys opposed more liability protections for landowners so they could continue to profit off lawsuits – even if it means we lose access to more places.

      I have great respect for the legal profession – both my parents are attorneys and my mom owns her own law firm. That’s why I think it’s important to hold them to account. Blaming others for problems when you are the reason the solution got shut down is disingenuous, and we have dozens of attorneys and legal experts who agree. The TLA has valid safety concerns too – but instead of raising them with us, they rejected the idea that there is any problem to address.

      You can’t work with people to solve problems if they refuse to acknowledge the problem exists.

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