Air Force Responsible for Sinkhole on Bicycle Path

On Feb 6, 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law in United States v. Varney, No. 11-cv-02953-WYD-MEH. This case involved premises liability at the United States Air Force Academy, brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, in Colorado off interstate 45.

This opinion was only on liability because the court bifurcated liability and damages. The US Air Force maintained a trail on federal property. James Nelson was injured in a bicycle accident on that path. This path was not lighted. At some point on the path, Mr. Nelson ran into a sinkhole, lost control of his bike, and hurt himself.

The Court held that the Discretionary Function did not bar suit. The Discretionary Function is an exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity in the FTCA which bars claims based on the performance of a discretionary function. The Court also held that Mr. Nelson was an invitee or licensee under premises liability law and the United States was liable for not properly maintaining the bicycle path. Finally, the Court held that Mr. Nelson was not responsible for causing his own injuries or damages (also known sometimes as contributory negligence).

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