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Galef v. University of Colorado.

2022 COA 91. No. 21CA0322. Personal Injury—Premises Liability—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Waiver—Dangerous Condition of a Public Building.

August 4, 2022

Galef was walking down a recently mopped staircase in his dormitory hall at the University of Colorado (University). There was no “wet floor” sign or other warning that the stairs were wet, and the stairs’ black coloring made it difficult to see that they were wet. Galef slipped, fell down the stairs, and dislocated his shoulder, and the injury required surgical repair. Galef brought a premises liability claim against the University, asserting that he was an invitee to a public building under the Premises Liability Act (PLA) and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). The University moved to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(1), arguing that it had not waived its CGIA immunity to Galef’s claim under the CRS § 24-10-106(1)(c) “dangerous condition of any public building” provision. The court ruled that the wet, black stairs and the University’s alleged failure to warn they were wet did not amount to a “dangerous condition” within the meaning of the CGIA, and it dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, Galef argued that the trial court erred in concluding that a public entity does not waive its immunity for a premises liability claim based on a negligent failure to warn because without any other alleged negligent act or omission, such a failure cannot constitute a “dangerous condition” under the CGIA. The CGIA provides that a public entity waives sovereign immunity in an action for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition of a public building. Further, a public entity that provides a public building for public use owes a nondelegable duty to protect invitees under the PLA from unreasonable health and safety risks due to a negligent act or omission in constructing or maintaining the facility. A “dangerous condition” includes a public entity’s failure to warn of a hazardous physical condition in a public building when (1) the dangerous condition is not attributable solely to the building’s inadequate design, and (2) the public entity’s duty to warn of a hazard falls within its duty of maintenance. Here, it is undisputed that mopping stairs is part of the University’s maintenance plan for the dormitory. Accordingly, the University’s alleged negligent failure to warn Galef of wet, slippery stairs was a negligent omission in maintaining the dormitory within the meaning of a “dangerous condition.” The trial court therefore erred by excluding the University’s alleged failure to warn Galef from its “dangerous condition” analysis.

Galef also argued that the court erred in concluding that he failed to demonstrate that the mere difficult-to-detect wetness of the black flooring constituted a dangerous condition. Here, Galef successfully demonstrated that the imperceptibly wet, slippery stairs posed an unreasonable risk to the public’s health and safety. Therefore, together with other undisputed facts, Galef sufficiently demonstrated that his injuries resulted from a dangerous condition of a public building. Accordingly, the University waived its immunity under the CGIA as a matter of law.

The judgment of dismissal was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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